JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas --
April is Autism Awareness Month, a time which focuses on promoting awareness, acceptance and appreciation for those with autism.
According to the Autism Society of America, autism is a complex developmental disability which affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It is characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors.
In order to help autistic children at Joint Base San Antonio, the special education teachers at Randolph Elementary School have developed a robust program.
“We follow an individual education plan when they arrive,” said Bridget Brennan-Bergmann, Randolph Elementary special education teacher. “It could be providing inclusion support if the student needs a little help in their classroom, working with a special education teacher outside of the classroom or it could be working full-time in a special education classroom if the student needs more structure. Since individuals experience autism differently, these individual education plans have a critical impact on student success.”
The teachers focus on creating schedules with minimal unstructured time, positive behavior support strategies, social skills support, communication interventions and a multi-sensory approach to learning.
The special education teachers at Randolph Elementary also offer families with autistic children help outside of the classroom.
“We also do in-home and community visits where we provide parent and family training and support,” Brennan-Bergmann said. “The in-home and community training takes the burden off the parents, they’re the real troopers. Not only are they military and moving from base to base, they are doing their best to raise a child with autism. These types of training also helps the child create their own independence.”
According to the Autism Society of America, autism typically appears during the first three years of life and currently affects about one percent of the world population and more than 3.5 Americans.
“The universal sign of autism is the puzzle piece because it reflects the mystery and complexity of Autism Spectrum Disorder,” said Christina Petofi-Casal, Randolph Elementary coordinator of special education programs. “Also, since every puzzle piece is different in some way, a puzzle piece accurately represents the diversity of the individuals affected.”
Individuals also experience the symptoms in varying severity.
“The symptoms may result in relatively mild challenges for someone on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum,” Petofi-Casal said. “On the other hand, other individuals may experience more severe symptoms which may interfere with everyday life.”
According to the Autism Society of America website, some of the signs autistic children may exhibit are a delay in speech, repetitive use of language and/or motor mechanisms, little or no eye contact, lack of spontaneous or make-believe play, lack of interest in peer relationships and persistent fixation on parts of objects.
The special education teachers at Randolph Elementary have some advice for parents who think their child may be exhibiting signs of autism.
“Talk with your primary care provider,” Brennan-Bergmann said. “Early diagnosis and treatment helps young children with autism develop to their full potential. The primary goal of treatment is to improve the overall ability of the child to function independently in the world.”
One of the goals during Autism Awareness Month is to raise awareness that, while autistic children may interact differently, they should be accepted and included among their non-autistic peers.
“Young children, in particular, need to know it’s not contagious,” Brennan-Bergmann said. “It is also important to understand many families who have a child with autism are still learning how to appropriately respond and help their child in order to best facilitate personal growth.
“Families are often looking for inclusive social outlets for their child with autism as well as social outlets for themselves, as life with an autistic child sometimes limits these opportunities,” Brennan-Bergmann continued. “It’s important to make children with autism and their families feel included as valued members of our communities.”