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The Suburbanite
  • Green Local Schools fosters unique program for students diagnosed with autism

  • As an early-childhood intervention specialist with Green Local Schools, Amy Warth knows a little something about kids with autism: They’re true to themselves.

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  • As an early-childhood intervention specialist with Green Local Schools, Amy Warth knows a little something about kids with autism: They’re true to themselves.
    Warth has been working to develop a specialized autism program, “Step Ahead,” at Green Primary School for 17 years, so she has watched the tides shift in the public’s awareness of the neural development disorder that has grown substantially in children in the past decade.  
    According for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of children diagnosed with autism has more than doubled in the past decade. The cause of the disorder is hotly debated, but there still is no known single cause, according to Laurie Cramer, director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron.
    TYPICAL DAYS
    A typical day in Warth’s classroom, which now has six students enrolled from grades one through three, doesn’t appear much different than a typical learning environment. Kids assess their schedules, engage in group learning and earn time with computers, iPads and toys such as Legos.
    A popular myth surrounding people with autism, according to Warth, is that they tend to be extremely smart in all areas, though Warth says this isn’t true “across the board.” People with autism often have “restrictive interests,” meaning that they are very interested in one particular thing that they often know a lot about.
    In a classroom environment, that can affect learning both positively and negatively.
    “They all have strengths and weaknesses like every other child,” Warth said. “If they do happen to have a restrictive interest, say in trains, it can look like they’re very smart in that area, but just like any other child in a certain subject area — they’re going to learn more about it if they like it.”
    To combat this, Warth, who is a certified autism specialist, has helped implement various tools in the classroom. She said at Green, students with autism learn curriculum-specific, evidence-based lessons that apply their restrictive interest to help them learn.
    “What is true across the board is children with autism have difficulties in three areas: communicating, socialization and they have very restrictive interests that interfere with their learning,” Warth said, “so we have to structure those restrictive interests into a part of their learning.”
    Warth said that at Green, students with autism spend up to half of their day in a “typical learning environment,” learning alongside kids without disabilities, which helps their communication and language skills.
    “Several of the students go out into the general-education population area for certain classes, so it’s a combination,” she said. “They also go with typical peers to art, music, gym, library and iPad classes.”
    Warth and Cramer both advocate for this type of learning, and Cramer argues that separating kids with autism from their peers would be detrimental to their development.
    Page 2 of 2 - “One of the big movements of the disability community in general is not separating children or people with disabilities,” Cramer said. “ … They’re part of our world as much as anyone, so not having separate and secluded classrooms has been a big push.”
    CELEBRATE, LEARN, GROW
    The Autism Society of Greater Akron as well as Warth’s class celebrated Autism Awareness Month this month, a nationally-recognized month that advocates for educating the general public on the disorder.
    “We’ve kind of gone from awareness to a new place that’s really saying ‘OK, you’re aware of autism, but can we take it to the next step,’ and that is asking the next level of questions,” Cramer said.
    Warth’s classroom celebrated Autism Awareness Month with a special day at school April 2, the official day for autism awareness. Kids participated in the event, “Light it up Blue,” by dressing up in blue and even painting their hair blue, the official color of Autism Speaks, an organization that focuses mostly on raising funds for autism research.
    The Autism Society of Greater Akron sent out Inclusion Kits this month to all the local school districts in the five counties the organization covers.
    “The kit is really about including our children in their school environment,” Cramer said. “One of the common denominators among all people with autism is also social deficits, so inclusion with their peers helps with the social and socializing and working and problem solving and all that goes with that.”
    Green also had a fundraiser April 13 to raise funds for The Idea House Educational Services, a school in Uniontown designed to help Autistic children cope with everyday life.
    Cramer and Warth both consider working with kids with autism their passion and recognize something special about them.
    “They’re like any other child: they need love, acceptance and tolerance,” Warth said. “They’re just very cool kids to get to know. They teach me as much or more as I teach them.”
    MAKE STRIDES:
    Support Autism research
    WHAT: “Lace It, Race It, Face It,” a walk and 5k to support The Autism Society of Greater Akron
    WHEN:  June 15
    WHERE: Lock 3 in Akron.
    INFORMATION: For more on how to register or to get more event information: www.akronautism5kandwalk.org.