CCPS holds first autism aware­ness fair

Event gives voice to tal­ents, chal­lenges of chil­dren on the spec­trum

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­news.com

Mu­sic, yoga, pic­ture sched­ules, sen­sory-friendly crafts and more were part of the in­au­gu­ral World Autism Aware­ness Fair held Satur­day at St. Charles High School.

The event was hosted by the Charles County Pub­lic Schools’ Au- tism Team and Spe­cial Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment.

Autism, or Autism Spec­trum Disor­der, is de­fined as “a group of de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties that can cause sig­nif­i­cant so­cial, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and be­hav­ioral chal­lenges,” ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, which es­ti­mates ap­prox­i­mately one in 68 chil­dren are be­ing di­ag­nosed with the disor­der.

Char­ac­ter­is­tics of ASD in­clude

dif­fi­culty in­ter­pret­ing fa­cial ex­pres­sions and body lan­guage, mak­ing eye con­tact, dif­fi­culty pro­cess­ing cer­tain stim­uli, such as lights, sounds and scents, and dif­fi­culty with changes in rou­tine, ac­cord­ing to the CDC.

April has been des­ig­nated Autism Aware­ness Month, and Teresa Robin­son, CCPS co­or­di­na­tor of autism ser­vices, said the school sys­tem or­ga­nized the event this year rec­og­nize chil­dren with autism in CCPS, as well as their fam­i­lies. “This year we felt we re­ally needed to cel­e­brate our kids’ tal­ents and sup­port their fam­i­lies,” Robin­son said.

Robin­son said she be­gan the school sys­tem’s autism pro­gram in 1997 with one stu­dent, who was strug­gling in the spe­cial ed- uca­tion pro­gram.

Robin­son said that in 1997, autism was be­ing di­ag­nosed in four out of ev­ery 10,000 chil­dren. Now, the CDC es­ti­mates one out of ev­ery 68 chil­dren is be­ing di­ag­nosed with ASD.

“The num­ber has just grown ex­po­nen­tially,” Robin­son said.

Cur­rently, the school sys­tem has more than 200 stu­dents with a dis­abil­ity code of autism en­rolled in CCPS, in a va­ri­ety of re­gional pro­grams, in in­clu­sion class­rooms and in reg­u­lar ed­u­ca­tion class­rooms, de­pend­ing on the type and de­gree of ser­vices needed as de­scribed in the stu­dents’ In­di­vid­ual Ed­u­ca­tion Pro­gram, or IEP, Robin­son said.

Ap­prox­i­mately 80 fam­ily mem­bers and their chil­dren at­tended the fair. For fam­ily mem­bers, there was a brief video mon­tage show­cas­ing stu­dents with ASD in the school sys­tem. This was fol­lowed by break-out ses­sions in­clud­ing the use of vis­ual sup- ports to aid stu­dents with ASD in com­plet­ing multi-step tasks, dis­cus­sion of ed­u­ca­tional apps and a par­ent-to-par­ent sup­port panel.

For chil­dren, there were mu­sic and move­ment ac­tiv­i­ties, sen­sory-friendly arts and crafts, and chil­dren’s yoga ac­tiv­i­ties.

“I want fam­i­lies to un­der­stand that all of their kids have tal­ents. They have ways to com­mu­ni­cate, they have things to say, they have spe­cial in­ter­ests, and all of that can be used to help them learn to learn,” Robin­son said.

Larry John­son, in­struc­tional spe­cial­ist for spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion, said he hopes the pro­gram can be ex­panded in fu­ture ses­sions.

“We hope next year we can ex­pand on this,” John­son said. “Hope­fully next year it can be even big­ger and bet­ter.”

Elise Gor­don at­tended the fair with her daugh­ter and 3-year-old grand­daugh­ter, who has ASD. A day­care provider who has worked with chil­dren with au- tism, she said she was im­pressed with how or­ga­nized the event was.

“I think it is re­ally awe­some that they’re do­ing this,” Gor­don said.

Robin­son said one of the goals of the fair is to show­case the di­ver­sity of the stu­dents served within the school sys­tem.

“Our kids come from ev­ery part of the spec­trum, from kids who are very ver­bal and ar­tic­u­late, to kids who have dif­fi­cul­ties with com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” Robin­son said. “But they all have a voice, and we want that voice to be heard.”

STAFF PHOTO BY JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU

Mu­sic in­struc­tor Ju­lia Rep­pucci leads stu­dents in an ex­plo­ration of mu­sic dur­ing Charles County Pub­lic Schools’ in­au­gu­ral Autism Aware­ness Fair, held Satur­day at St. Charles High School.

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