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Student with Autism breaks barriers at Cedar Springs Middle School, with the help of peers


Staff at Cedar Springs Middle school opened professional minds to an initiative of peer mentoring and inclusion for a student with autism this 2014-2015 school year.

Staff at Cedar Springs Middle school opened professional minds to an initiative of peer mentoring and inclusion for a student with autism this 2014-2015 school year.

By  Heidi  Schuitema

Staff at Cedar Springs Middle school opened professional minds to an initiative of peer mentoring and inclusion for a student with autism this 2014-2015 school year.  Launch has been successful and a 13-year old robotics/botany/technology-minded boy has found his way back to general education.

A series of stretching, least restrictive environments worked their wonders to support him and educators in his district through a disability exploratory that has him back in business.

Staff employed, best practice approaches to autism are in place as Gavin gradually pushes back his social and self-regulation barriers with the help of typical peers, reaching out, and staff aiming to fade their guidance as peers step in.

Choir Concert: Gavin faces stage fright, and with the encouragement of Ms. Janik & classmates, sings every word, does every movement, and gives a perfect performance!

Choir Concert: Gavin faces stage fright, and with the encouragement of Ms. Janik & classmates, sings every word, does every movement, and gives a perfect performance!

Peers have aligned themselves with Gavin’s goals and invest in communication with Gavin that supports his orientation for success.  They help point him in the right direction. Each day Gavin spends amid his typical, grade-level peer group reveals steady, improved capacity for new “firsts” for him, socially and academically.  Every new first helps him realize that he    CAN DO!

7th grade, green house teacher team Blauw, Metiva, Martens and Burns have invested mightily and collaborated with special education staff in support of Gavin. This has undergirded Gavin’s successful inclusion in ELA, science, and social studies (pending) so far this year.

Gavin’s staff team meets and plans, then general education teachers equip general education students with broadened understanding of Gavin’s trials with autism.  The flow of leadership from these teachers and through their students in support of Gavin has been life-changing for him. Peers are the expert teachers in this scenario and it is a very purposeful role for them to play.  Leadership qualities in empathy, understanding, motivation, initiation, team building, observational awareness, positive influence, encouragement, respect for others and putting others before self, are evident.  Everyone is invested and growing!

Gavin works on his interactive notebook, in science class.

Gavin works on his interactive notebook, in science class.

Before Gavin can balk at a transition into group work, students eagerly invite him into theirs. Tablemates offer to share their illustrations or copies of notes, in support, when Gavin feels intimidated by tasks.  Science lab partners request his input if he is not offering it and encourage his turns at trying demos or trials of an experiment.  If he hedges about moving forward in a task, there is no lack of “cheerleaders”.  Day after day, sweet nudges come from same-aged peers that help Gavin realize his place amongst them.  Day after day, his capacity for his post-secondary vision is expanded, and a new friend is made.  Gavin’s tendency to avoid people who might not understand him and steer clear of academic and social risk taking is being gradually quelled by caring staff, and classmates (his peers).

Many have helped Gavin down “his road” and his needs have called natural leaders to identify themselves and invest in another student.  What he has been able to do and what his peers have been moved to do has had escalating momentum.  It has been eye-opening to watch!  As this effort has emerged, staff have coached peer-mentoring, which is beginning to happen naturally now, all much to Gavin’s benefit.

Gavin has the self-determined life goal to get a diploma and attend college to prepare for a high-interest career.  With the help of flexible, understanding staff and just-right peers, Gavin is well on his way.

 

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Is your baby’s developmental delay normal or a symptom of autism?


(ARA) – More children will receive an autism diagnosis this year than will be diagnosed with AIDS, diabetes and cancer combined, according to the Autism Speaks organization. You’ve probably heard or read at least some of the often-emotional debate over the causes and cures of autism.
Yet one thing everyone agrees on is that the sooner a child’s autism is diagnosed, the sooner that child can get the help he or she needs.
The nation’s fastest-growing developmental disorder, autism affects an estimated one in every 110 children. With such a high incidence rate, many parents may agonize over any developmental delays, wondering if what they see is just the normal variances in children’s development rates – or an indication of a more serious disorder.
Dr. Rebecca Landa, head of the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, recommends concerned parents act early, rather than waiting to see if developmental delays resolve themselves. Early intervention can have a big impact on the development of children with autism.
“Our research suggests that the ‘wait and see’ method, which is often recommended to concerned parents, could lead to missed opportunities for early intervention,” Dr. Landa says. “By identifying these early signs of autism and acting early, we are providing toddlers with tools and skills to increase social opportunities throughout their lifetime and positioning them to have the best possible outcomes.”
Researchers at the Institute have recently made major advances that now allow the signs of autism to be detected in children as young as age 1. Parents concerned about their child’s developmental delays should look for these early warning signs:
* Little or no attempt to attract attention – It’s typical for infants and toddlers to seek the attention of those around them. Attention-seeking tactics can range from making silly facial expressions, moving their limbs and making babbling sounds in babies younger than 1, to talking and acting silly in children older than 12 months. Children who don’t attempt to attract the attention of others in these ways could be at risk for autism.
* Poor eye contact – By the time they’re 2 months old, infants can make direct eye contact with an adult. Children who later develop autism often avoid making eye contact and are more interested in staring at objects or other facial features such as the mouth.
* Poor or no response to own name – By 6 months, typical children will respond when an adult calls their name. Parents should be concerned if their child infrequently or inconsistently responds to his name.
* Delayed speech/babbling – Delayed babbling and then delayed spoken language is one of the most recognizable signs that a child’s development is delayed. Children should be babbling as young as 6 months.
* Doesn’t mimic facial expressions – As early as 2 months old, babies mimic the facial expressions of others, smiling when someone smiles at them. When a baby does not voluntarily reciprocate a parent’s smile, it’s a red flag for autism.
* Engages in unusual play – Unusual play is another red flag. For example, a child might spin, flick or line up toys and objects in a purposeless, repetitive way. This can become more noticeable as children reach 2 or 3 years old.
* Unusual body movements – Parents can often easily identify differences in how a child moves. Children with autism might repeatedly stiffen their arms or legs, flap their hands or arms, twist their wrists or move in other unusual ways.
* Repetitive language – Children with autism may engage in repetitive language. These children may be able to recite the ABCs before they can make word combinations.
* Does not express desire to share interests – At 9 to 12 months old, and in some cases earlier, children want to show or share their interests with others. They might point to something and wait for a parent to react, or hold up a toy to see and comment on it. A child with autism may not attempt to engage socially in this way.
* Disinterested in imitating others – Babies and toddlers love to imitate the actions of others; it’s how they learn to laugh, eat and play. An early warning sign of autism is often a child’s disinterest in imitating others. A child might occasionally mimic others, but more often observes rather than imitates.
To learn more about early detection research, visit www.kennedykrieger.org.

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