Putting the pieces together: School participates in Autism Awareness Month

Mari Brown, Staff Writer

April may be known for its showers that bring May flowers, but the month also has a deeper meaning. April is Autism Awareness Month, featuring April 2 as National Autism Awareness Day.

Keesha Williams, the chair of the Special Education Department, has been working with kids who have special needs since 1999. Williams speaks of the significance of bringing awareness to this diagnosis and the need for others to realize what autism truly is.

“It’s a social communication deficit and it ranges from students who are low functioning to high functioning, commonly known as Asperger’s syndrome which we don’t refer to much anymore,” Williams said. “It goes from those who are non- verbal to those who are on a recognized graduation plan. Although we have made strides in educating others on autism, we still have a long way to go.”

Senior Bella Evans also shares some experience working with autistic children and adults due to her involvement in Partners P.E. from middle school up to ninth grade.

“It was a really great way to get to know some amazing kids,” Evans said. “They are the friendliest group of people you will ever meet. They will say hi to me in the halls. I also volunteer at a center for autistic adults to help them develop jobs, which has allowed me to meet some incredibly gifted people.”

As the chair of the department, Williams has encountered several different varieties of false stereotypes of autistic people.

“Common misconceptions are that all people with autism are non-verbal or that they are all aggressive,” Williams said. “Because there’s a deficit in the communication sometimes their behavior is exhibited in some violent behavior but that’s not true for everyone. One thing I would say that if you met one person with Autism then you met one person with Autism.”

For Evans, her experiences working with people with special needs has directed her to joining the Education and Training class to pursue her potential career.

“When I first joined Partners P.E., it was honestly for the credit, but after one semester of it, I was in love and wanted to stay with the program,” Evans said. “I continued the program until it didn’t fit in my schedule, and it was probably what pushed me into the direction of education.”

According to Williams, the best way to support those with autism is to be educated on the matter. This is why the school provides many outlets for those affected by autism along with flyers in the hallways presenting valid facts on the disorder.

“The district gives us some guidelines to support and some bulletin boards along with flyers,” Williams said. “Something else that the district does that we participate in are parent meetings they are offered so parents can go receive information.”

According to Williams, autistic children struggle with social norms, including determining the personal space needs of others. Despite the obstacles, a memorable experience comes along with being with these kids.

“The toughest part is when they are struggling to communicate with you and you don’t understand what they’re saying and they don’t understand what you’re saying,” Williams said. “My favorite memory would be helping these few middle school boys with their communication system and seeing them progress and grow. With Special Ed, you don’t always see the progress unlike with typical functioning students.”

Even though it has been years since Evans has been in Partners P.E., she still has touching moments with the friends she made.

“In the tenth grade, I had the pleasure of meeting a boy who started all of his conversations among the same lines of a fist bump and asking if you were his friend,” Evans said. “So I ran into him the other day and he comes up and asks, ‘Fist bump? Bella are you still my friend?’ I loved that after two years, he still remembered me, but also considered me a friend. It touched my heart in a crazy way — that’s why I work with autistic people, because when they form a bond, it’s a strong one.”