The rate of Autism Spectrum Disorder recognized in children has increased tremendously in recent years, and with that, “normal” has been reconsidered.
At Charlotte Valley Central School, normal is unique — and all of the students from pre-kindergarten to high school seniors are unique. As the school celebrated Autism Awareness month with a nationally recognized call to action — “Light It Up Blue” — students expressed their support for the entire student body, which includes several children who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
The “Light It Up Blue” day at Charlotte Valley Central School was held Friday with the students, staff and instructors wearing blue, as well as posters along the walls reflecting the awesomeness of autism and how each child is unique — and how being unique is good.
“We have an interactive and inclusive program here that is open to all children on the autism spectrum,” said Jennifer Henderson, Chairperson of the Committee on Special Education. “All of the kids here, especially the ones that started three years ago when we started this program, are accepting and helpful — it is all part of the landscape, the children are all in this together. You can see by some of the posters here the students really care about each other.”
The focus on inclusion with the special-needs program began about three years ago when Henderson decided to approach teaching children on the autism spectrum in a different way. Although there are time when the students need individual instruction, they learn best by interacting with peers.
“When we decided to make this commitment, I hired Colleen Gleason,” Henderson said. “She is so enthusiastic, always learning new things. She and her staff, they really make this happen.”
On Friday as a gymnasium full of first-graders wearing blue shirts ran around pushing a giant orange ball, it was impossible to distinguish the boy who had been struggling with autism spectrum disorder.