By Tia Lynn Ivey
Morgan County Primary School (MCPS) students spent two weeks learning about Autism as part of an effort initiated by Teacher Ashley Culp to raise awareness about this misunderstood condition. The lessons were in honor of the global Autism Awareness Week and World Autism Day on April 1.
After completing writing assignments on Autism, Culp’s class shared their findings and performed a tweaked version of Katy Perry’s hit “Roar” that highlighted Autism awareness.
“Autism is something that I am very passionate about and the reason that I became a teacher,” said Culp. “My goal is to advocate and to teach as many people about autism, no matter how young or small, so that more and more people will begin to empathize and understand people on the spectrum. I feel that the only way to bring acceptance is to spread awareness, so that is what I try to achieve from teaching this lesson. It is just making more people aware so that acceptance can spread too.”
Culp designed her lesson plan to begin with students examining themselves and then broadening to others.
“The two-week lesson on autism begins by first asking students what is unique about themselves, so that they can learn to love themselves for their differences. This also helps them see that everyone has something that they are good at, and other things that may be more difficult for them,” explained Culp. “We learn that people with autism are no different, they just may have a difficult time with the things that come more easily to most of us.”
Culp then walks her students through several stimulation activities such as children’s books and videos and a research project.
“I feel that this is a very vital lesson for kids to learn early on so that they will grow into adult’s who have compassion and empathy for all walks of life,” said Culp.
Culp’s plan is to turn her students’ knowledge into action.
“Our class will be brainstorming ways that we can help people with autism. The students will then decide if and how we should raise money to donate to a cause or foundation that helps kids and people with autism,” said Culp. “Last year, our class raised money to donate to Camp Southern Ground; however, this year we will be coming up with ways to raise money for a more local cause with a young man in our community who has autism and is trying to raise the money to get his very own service dog.”
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