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Schools show virtual support for autism awareness

Published on Thursday, April 9, 2020

devon forest elem video still

BCSD provided photo / Clip from Devon Forest Elementary's video.

April is Autism Awareness Month, and schools around BCSD have recently shown their support by donning the color blue.

Typically during the month, autism-friendly events and activities are held to increase understanding and acceptance, and garner support for those with autism.

With ongoing social distancing, schools could not physically come together to show their support, but found virtual means to do so anyway.

April 2 specifically was World Autism Awareness Day. Schools participated by posting photos and videos of students sporting blue shirts at home.

Devon Forest Elementary was among the schools that participated. Kara Cougle, who leads the school’s special services program, said Devon Forest has been sharing all school information by utilizing Class Dojo. The special education department at Devon Forest has a “Buddy Program” where students in grades third through fifth apply for a position to be a special education student’s buddy. The students in the autism, cross-categorical and pre-school self-contained classes participate.

Megan Verner, mild mental disabilities teacher, organized the program. The buddies participate once a week with each other and then help with school functions and Special Olympics. They also utilize the sensory room so the buddies can interact with each other in a less demanding atmosphere.

Cougle said this is the third year with the Buddy Program. The school as a whole supports the special education department by helping fundraise and supporting the department’s efforts. Prior to schools closing, Devon Forest had a “Pie in the Face” event to raise money for their Special Olympics trip.

“The faculty and staff are always willing to support a great cause and see the accomplishments of our Special Education students,” Cougle said.

The school posted a video on April 2 showing students and staff wearing blue t-shirts. The video opened with the quote “In a world where you can be anything be kind,” and proceeded to roll a slideshow of the submitted photos to the tune of “What a Wonderful World.”

Boulder Bluff Elementary posted a similar video on their Facebook page, with a message to “shine a light on autism.” Berkeley Middle School made a post requesting the school community wear blue as well.

Alice Messick, special education teacher at Boulder Bluff Elementary, said staff "inundated" the web with their photos, spreading awareness and promoting acceptance of people with autism. She said the staff has enjoyed wearing autism-inspired shirts to school for years, specifically supporting World Autism Awareness Month and Autism Awareness Month.

"I was incredibly proud to see the virtual collection of pictures that showed our staff supporting this wonderful day," she said. "As we try to understand how our students live with this disability daily (autism is a lifelong condition), we also strive to promote kindness to all of our students with different abilities."

She said Boulder Bluff Elementary teaches students with emotional disabilities, preschool, developmental disabilities, cross-categorical, specific learning disabilities, speech and language impairments, autism, mild intellectual disabilities, occupational and physical therapies, ELL and other health impairments.

"It takes the whole school to educate not only our students with autism but all of our students, and we, the BBE staff, are honored to do so," Messick said. "Teaching our exceptional students make our days brighter."

Hanahan Elementary celebrated World Autism Day by including it in the school’s Spirit Day; students and staff posted photos to the school’s Facebook page of them wearing blue and/or autism awareness shirts.

A common t-shirt worn by students and staff at the school depicts a tie-dye puzzle piece along with the words “color outside the lines – Autism Awareness.”

Suzanne Swinyer, mild disabilities teacher at Hanahan Elementary, said it is part of the school’s curriculum to teach children to accept and include others who may look, act, communicate and learn differently.

She shared a photo of a poster made by Kellie Tuberty’s first-grade class; it reads “We are less when we don’t include everyone” and includes cut-out handprints.

“Each hand tells how they can welcome others,” she said. “We should all live by this idea.”

hanahan elem poster

BCSD provided photo 

Monica Kreber