April is National Autism Awareness Month.
Observances such as this offer the opportunity to highlight the increasing number of children identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and encourage understanding and acceptance. Recent data indicates that about one in 68 children has been identified with ASD which represents a 30 percent increase since 2012. As more youth are diagnosed with ASD, public schools are at the forefront of providing these children the assistance they need to prosper not only academically, but also socially.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disability that can cause a wide variation of symptoms to include major social, communication, and behavioral challenges. Signs of ASD typically begin during early childhood and last throughout a person’s life.
The mission of the School District of New London is Success for All Students. Recognizing April as Autism Awareness Month provides a reminder that success is defined uniquely for each and every one of us. We work diligently to understand student needs and provide opportunities which appropriately address each individual. We promote the acceptance and celebration of children with autism as family members, friends, classmates, co-workers, and community members making valuable contributions to our schools and community.
It is unclear of whether the growing number of diagnoses shows a real increase or comes from improved detection. Early diagnosis of a spectrum disorder is important. That’s because early intervention can help children with disabilities make significant gains in language and social skills.
One way in which our district supports children is through early detection. Our annual child find events, Child Development Days, are held in October and January each year. This screening examines all areas of development in a play-based model. Every child within the School District of New London is invited for screening when he/she is 2 ½ years old.
The district also provides training to help both regular education and special education teachers become more effective in helping the district’s 380 students with disabilities. Students with ASD and others in the district’s special education programs are becoming more and more successful. 90.4 percent of students with disabilities graduate within four years (based on 2012-2013 data); this is an increase from 84.7 percent since 2009-2010.
Special education staff members help schools serve these students by providing rigorous reviews of individualized education plans, going over graduation requirements with parents, and developing transition plans as students move between classes and schools and into the world outside of school.
So as the district proudly cites its mission, Success for All Students, we sincerely mean all students. We have not forgotten the many students with disabilities and their families who choose the School District of New London to get the support they need to be successful. Go Bulldogs!
Kathleen Gwidt is administrator of the New London School District.