The Big Sandy Mountaineer -

April is National Autism Month


April 24, 2019

Autism affects many people in our communities, and learning to understand the disease will better help educate the public and include these wonderful people.

April is Autism Month. It is best explained by the following press release. "Autism is a developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition. This means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways."

Cat Lopez an Elementary Paraprofessional said, "I work with students with Autism, but it is the entire community that supports them."

In Montana .31% of the student population are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). That means about 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with an Autism according to estimates from CDC's Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network.

If you want to understand the disorder here are some over simplified description. Often their sensory perceptions overwhelm them. The autism spectrum disorder are visual thinkers which means they process visual information better then they understand verbal or talking. Students with Autism respond better to what they see rather than what they hear. Autism and anxiety can occur together so developing strategies on how to reduce anxiety may be necessary to help them deal with overwhelming environmental sensory. They are often overwhelmed with feelings/ empathy. Although some with autism are non-verbal it doesn't mean they don't communicate. They actually have a lot to say.

Cat Lopez says the Big Sandy Art Department made items for the sensory room, to help decompress over activity. The Librarians have included books including famous people on the Autism Spectrum and books explaining that Autism is different not less then. On Thursday students wear blue for awareness and Rotary purchased t-shirts for everybody.

She is humbled every single day. It empowers her. "Awareness is so important and the students are gaining a sense of empathy and understanding each student's worth. At this school ASD is a part of life. It's what we do. It is a great team. Great administration. Great para-professionals, great kids. There are 100 kids at the grade school now. It's ok for the kids to ask questions, we want them to understand. These guys are amazing. These little people are wonderful. (Meaning both the students with Autism and the rest of the students."

It says a lot about our school. Nationally "children with autism are bullied three times more frequently than their unaffected siblings. 63% of children with ASD have been bullied by some point in their lives. These children, who are sometimes intentionally triggered into meltdowns or aggressive outbursts by their peers. Bully occurred at every grade level. 5-8th grades appeared

to be the worst, with 42%-49% ASD children bullied. ASD children attending public schools are bullied at a rate of 50% more than children in private or special education settings. Types of Bullying most often reported include 73% being teased, %1% being left out of things on purpose, 47% being called bad names, 30% being pushed, shoved, or hit."

Cat says there is an increase in autism. "If you look at the numbers it hurts." A child with autism needs a consistent approach in their education. "They are just kids."

But it is the community that gives a consistent approach as well. He plays basketball and struggled learning the game and the skills. However, the entire team supports him in their game together. While playing Fort Benton both teams worked together to give him his best day ever. The Big Sandy boys told him where to stand, the Fort Benton boys stood back a little, he got the ball passed to him, he put it up and made a basket. The celebration was felt by everyone.

A few years ago I was sitting on the top bleacher seat, by myself, at a football game. He noticed me sitting there alone. I've known this boy since he first started school and knew him to be on the Autism spectrum disorder. He came up to me and visited for 30 minutes.

Cat concluded, "We are pretty fortunate. This is a body of students already enlightened and with an empathetic makeup. Awareness for us is to bring attention to the increase in ASD amongst students, and the challenges that we face in small rural communities. Resources can be limited. This community has been amazing in its support, the school district, the families, and the local businesses."


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