CCPS holds first autism awareness fair
Event gives voice to talents, challenges of children on the spectrum
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.”
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.