Celebrating our differences helps increase our understanding.
Posted on 05/01/2018
Autism Technology

From wearing blue to making muffins, from watching webinars to designing bulletin boards, students and staff across the School Division found unique and instructive ways to observe Autism Awareness Month. Here are a few examples:

In Lauren Fenner’s class at Swans Creek Elementary School, students worked on math skills by measuring, mixing, and baking muffins.

Karen Catacora’s class at Bull Run Middle School, use augmentative technology so that students could virtually experience work and life skills, such as going to the grocery store, before they experienced it in real life. This technology gives them transitional practice in communication, social, academic, and work skills. Throughout the school during April, all students had the chance to test these technological learning tools.

At Neabsco Elementary School, Christopher Leonard, teacher of students with autism, shared a variety of activities his school carried out, including an Autism Awareness bulletin board, Autism Spirit Week, and an Autism Awareness Code Word activity, in which every student in the school was given the opportunity to code a word. Each coded symbol represented a letter that formed different terms associated with autism. Those who submitted their coded words to Mr. Leonard’s class received a puzzle piece to color and decorate. Finally, these decorated puzzle pieces helped to complete the school-wide Autism Awareness bulletin board. 

In the Office of Special Education, PWCS teachers, teaching assistants, and speech language pathologists participated in a three-night webinar series, "Autism, AAC & LAMP," to learn about alternative ways to communicate with those who may have speech or language problems. AAC stands for augmentative and alternative communication. LAMP stands for language acquisition through motor planning.

During April, Kristine Klink, teacher of students with autism at Cedar Point Elementary School, and her students opened a Cheetah Coffee Cart run completely by students in her self-contained classroom. The students advertised, sold, and made and delivered coffee to staff on Friday mornings.

She said, “We did a few test-runs in March and completely opened in April for Autism Awareness Month.”

The school staff purchased Autism Awareness shirts from a community organization that was raising money to help a family bring services home for a student with disabilities. And, the school’s morning announcements were delivered by students with autism who shared facts about autism.

Thanks to Kelsey McCrystal, teacher of students with autism, Westridge Elementary School held a week-long autism awareness celebration, with something new in the teachers’ lounge each day to promote autism awareness, such as ribbons, puzzle-piece cookies, and autism bracelets. On Thursday, students with disabilities wrote thank you cards to the staff. Westridge students enjoyed wearing autism bracelets and watching "What's up with Nick," an animated video that teaches elementary and middle school students about their peers with autism. Each class decorated the hallways with puzzle pieces and visited and viewed each other’s handiwork.

Woodbridge High School students and teachers actively participated in an autism simulation hosted by Woodbridge’s Student Leadership Class (SALC). The purpose of the activities was to help students and teachers understand life thru the eyes of someone with autism. All participants started the simulation by watching two short touching videos about living with autism, then moved to playing simulation games thru http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/misunderstoodminds and then went through several activities to simulate the sensory difficulties individuals with autism might experience. Examples of these activities include using oven mitts to try to make beaded necklaces, attempting to talk with several large marshmallows in their mouths, and trying to read and write while wearing blurred goggles. As the last activity, all students wrote their own puzzle piece to express what makes them unique and connected the pieces to a larger puzzle with all the other students. This lesson helped reinforce the message that while we may all be different, we all fit together, and that thru patience, knowledge, and understanding, we can move closer to a society where everyone is included despite our differences.