By Tia Lynn Ivey
The Morgan County Primary School (MCPS) helped young students understand the meaning of Autism in honor of Autism Awareness Week and World Autism Day on Friday, April 1. Students donned blue while putting on a singing performance last Friday to honor and promote Autism Awareness.
Autism is a condition encompassing a broad spectrum of symptoms, fraught with learning, social, and emotional challenges. The cause of autism is hotly debated and multifaceted. A myriad of factors can contribute to the development of autism, including a genetic predisposition to autism and a number of non-genetic, or environmental, influences. The condition is also often misunderstood.
During Autism Awareness week last week MCPS teachers put together some lessons for students and gave participating students the opportunity to share what they learned with their younger peers about it. Ashley Culp, a MCPS teacher, hoped the kids would learn “patience, understanding, and acceptance of people with Autism.”
“The big message we wanted to get across to our students is that we all have things that we are good at and some things that may be more challenging to us, and that this is no different for people with Autism or anyone for that matter,” said Culp. “We wanted to teach our students the importance of Autism awareness and acceptance of their peers, no matter how different they may seem because we are all unique and bring value in to our community and to our world.”
According to Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy organization, Autism is a kind of “umbrella term,” that encompasses a variety of disorders, symptoms, and characteristics.
“Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. They include autistic disorder (sometimes referred to as “classic autism”), Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art,” said Liz Feld, president of Autism Speaks.
“The reason why I wanted to teach this lesson again is because Autism is my passion and something that I advocate for with all my heart. I was inspired to become a teacher because of a little boy who I previously taught who had Autism and how he changed my perception of the world around me,” explained Culp. “I wanted to teach our students this lesson because of the continuously increasing chance that some of their peers could have Autism or could have a loved one who has this disorder.”
Students participated in various activities to help them understand what Autism is and what it is not.
“Each day this week, we have been teaching our students about Autism through various activities and lessons that also correspond with the 2nd grade Common Core Standards for Reading and Language Arts. They have been watching several short video clips with cartoon characters explaining Autism, and they have also been researching Autism through various informational mini books as well,” said Culp.
“One book that we read to introduce the students to our lesson was the book, My Brother Charlie by Holly Robinson Peete. This book does a great job in explaining Autism and how it ‘looks’ to children.”
MCPS also encouraged some hands-on exercises to help children empathize with those who have Autism.
“Our students have also been putting themselves in the shoes of people who have Autism to learn how to have empathy for other people with various visualizing and verbalizing activities.”
With Autism on the rise, advocates insist more than ever that awareness and funding for treatment occupy a higher priority.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 1 in 68 American children are on the autism spectrum–a ten-fold increase in prevalence over the last 40 years. According to Autism Speaks, other studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is estimated to affect more than 2 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Although parents may be reluctant to have their children evaluated, autism researches and advocates strongly encourage parents to not fear an autism diagnosis. “Often, a diagnosis brings relief to those who have long struggled with difficulties in relating socially while not understanding the source of their difficulties. A diagnosis can also open access to therapies and assistive technologies that can improve function in areas of difficulty and, so, improve overall quality of life,” said Feld. For more information about Autism, visit www.autismspeaks.org