WARSAW — Children with Autism who attend school in the Warsaw Community School Corporation have a team of highly-trained professionals helping them to thrive in a world that, for them, can sometimes be more than a little overwhelming. The advantage given to these youngsters comes in the form of not only those Autism-savvy pros, but also a program in its second year that the corporation’s board of trustees approved to give those children and their teachers all the tools necessary for success.
In concert with National Autism Awareness Month, a trio of educators made a presentation to the board on Tuesday afternoon, April 10, to share some of the program’s success stories. To commemorate the month of observance, a display is presented at the school corporation’s headquarters.
“Two years ago, we entered into a contract with a group called Hands In Autism,” said Amy Hobbs, the corporation’s director of special services. “They are through the I.U. School of Psychiatry and they specialize in a model full of evidence-based strategies to assist students with Autism.”
Hobbs told the board that prior to the program, educators had realized that children “on the spectrum” had needs that were beginning to out-pace the educators’ skill sets.
“We had reached a point where we had some students who were exceeding our capacity in skills and knowledge and how to work with student to help with behaviors,” Hobbs said. “So, we entered into a contract with them and started working on a model classroom at Lakeview Middle School. That was a pretty big success, so the second year I came back and asked if we could expand it to two classrooms at Lakeview Middle School and the high school this year.”
According to Hobbs, questions were raised about reaching children in need at an earlier stage in development.
“We added to the contract to get some consulting, specifically for our elementary buildings because we didn’t have self-contained classrooms that needed the assistance. So, what we’ve done this year is work with Hands and each month they come up and we get to determine which student and which building we want them to come in and they work shoulder to shoulder with teachers and para-professionals.”
Autism Resource Specialist Maria Demopoulos told the board about the moment when educators realized they needed help if they were going to help these very special children.
“We had a situation with a student,” Demopoulos said, “that we just kind of looked at each other and said ‘we’ve used all of our tools in our tool box what else?’”
According to Demopoulous, professionals from Hands In Autism arrive at a school and spend the entire day observing, consulting and making recommendations. She said she was given the task of expanding the program to the younger children.
“It’s kind of my responsibility to branch that out to the buildings where we don’t have it,” she said. “So I’ve worked with Jefferson, Claypool, Washington, Madison, Leesburg, Lincoln and a couple of pre-schools we have students at too to expand this and start this model. So, as our kids go from pre-school, or elementary to middle school, they’re already using this model and we can continue and expand.”
Demopoulos said the program is not just for children on the spectrum, but for other students with different disabilities.
“I thank you [school board] so much for approving this to happen here. It’s been really cool to see the growth that we’ve seen and I’m proud that we’re using it,” Demopoulos said.
The board heard success stories not only from Demopoulos but also from Lindsey Wallen, a kindergarten teacher at Leesburg Elementary School.
Autism Awareness Month will be observed throughout the month of April. In observance of this month of awareness, the corporation headquarters has a display presented in its front lobby.