Guest Contributor: Melissa Heuker, Director of Student Services
April is Autism Awareness month worldwide, but in Whitmore Lake Public Schools, we celebrate differences year round. In 2018, the CDC determined that 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism (1 in 37 boys and 1 in 151 girls). About 2% of Whitmore Lake students are on the autism spectrum, spanning all grade levels. Chances are, someone you know has autism.
Many children and adults on the autism spectrum struggle with communication, social skills, emotional regulation, and sensory processing. The simple act of sitting at a desk in a classroom can feel like the constant scraping of nails on a chalkboard with strobe lights and concert music blaring. Sometimes children can’t cope with the pain, anxiety, and confusion they feel from the daily expectations required in their school day, and they react unexpectedly. Some, but not all, children on the autism spectrum may yell, cry, hit, or hide when they aren’t able to self-regulate their bodies. The trigger could be a well-intentioned substitute teacher changing the routine or a forgotten cell phone. To outsiders, including classmates, these behaviors could appear intense or troublesome. However, the school has already worked closely with families, students, and a team of professionals to support the child as needs arise. You and your student may not know the preventative and reactive plans already in place for a child with autism, but rest assure these plans are reviewed and revised regularly to best support the students and staff of Whitmore Lake Public Schools.
Each building has a team of professionals dedicated to helping all students. These members include special education teachers, speech and language therapists, school social workers, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and several amazing paraprofessionals. We are grateful to have such supportive, dedicated, and caring individuals to ensure their safety and success. Please join me in honoring all of those with differences! Students can invite their peers to play with them on the playground or sit with them at lunch. One way for adults to help is to register or cheer at the Autism Speaks Walk at Kensington Metropark on September 7, 2019. This fundraiser provides families with scholarships for therapy and funds ongoing autism research. For more information, please visit: http://www.autism-society.org/ and https://www.autismspeaks.org/ .