April is Autism Awareness Month

Published 7:52 am Friday, April 11, 2014

By Sheri Willrodt

Director of Special Services, Austin Public Schools

Autism spectrum disorders (or ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. The Center for Disease Control (or CDC) estimates an average of 1 in 88 children in the U.S is on the autism spectrum. The CDC is working to find out how many children are on the autism spectrum, discover the risk factors, and raise awareness of the signs. There is currently no cure for ASD. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can greatly improve a child’s development.

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Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Additionally supports are available as children progress in age to assist them with communication skills, social skills, organizational skills, and with other identified need areas. These supports are available through the school system for children who have been evaluated and meet criteria for autism spectrum disorder.

We do not know all of the causes of ASDs. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASDs. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors. ASDs occur in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but are four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls. About 2 percent of the student population in Austin Public Schools has been identified on the autism spectrum and in need of special education services. This is 13 percent of our total population of students receiving special education services. It should be noted that not all students who have a medical diagnosis of autism are in need of special education services, so the actual number of students on the autism spectrum is actually likely higher than this.

In order to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism, the Autism Society has been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month since the 1970s. The United States recognizes April as a special opportunity for everyone to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.

In Austin, Community Education is sponsoring three events throughout the month of April, all taking place at the Hormel Historic Home:

—At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, our staff presented a class entitled “Transition Resources for Families and Older Students.” This class provided resources for older students on the Autism Spectrum Disorders and their families and service providers.

—At 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 15, there will be a presentation on Story Grammar Marker by one of our educational speech clinicians. Story Grammar Marker is an educational strategy used to help students improve comprehension, speaking skills, social and thinking skills. The Story Grammar Marker can be used to help learners improve reading comprehension, writing, speaking, and social skills. Participants will be provided examples for how to use the system in a variety of ways.  This class is designed to help professionals working with students in third- through eighth-grade.

—At 6:30 p.m.Tuesday, April 22, one of our teachers of students with autism will present a session entitled “Strategies for Including and Embracing People with Autism in Our Community.” Participants will learn simple and effective strategies for including and effectively serving individuals with Autism in community settings. The presentation will be fore people that help provide services/activities for children with Autism in their own settings, such as Sunday school teachers, dance instructors, and hair stylists (for example).

Cost for each event is $10. There will be CEUs available for each event and registration is through Community Education (460-1706; www.austin.k12.mn.us/clc/).