People who support autistic children are many

Published 8:50 am Monday, May 10, 2010

“It takes a village.”

A truer statement of child rearing has never been spoken. So many people come together to raise and educate our children; we have parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins, teachers, doctors, clergy, community members and so many more people who are a part of our children’s lives. This is a gift to any family but even more to a family with a child with autism.

It is my privilege, as an educator, to be a part of this village. Albert Lea Area Schools have 100 children who are identified as being on the autism spectrum, and I feel fortunate and privileged to be a part of the educational team that dedicates so much to the success of children with autism. As a district, we have an Autism Task Force, which works tirelessly to gain the most up-to-date knowledge in the educational environment and strive to keep our program current with research and best teaching practice.

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In his keynote address to the National Convention of the Council of Exceptional Children, the Education Secretary Arne Carlson stated, “High expectations must be the norm, not the exception.” The educators in the Albert Lea Area Schools have high expectations; from the early intervention level where many children with autism are first identified; to high school, where they successfully learn at their appropriate academic level for their grade and work in the community; to their transition to adulthood whether work or further education.

In April, the Tribune has covered how the community serves some of these children with interviews, articles and letters to the editor. We have been shown the families’ struggles and triumphs. We have learned about the Albert Lea Fire Department and the Police Department working together to promote the Child Find program for children with autism who are likely to walk away from their families without awareness of their own vulnerability. The local radio station has interviewed one of the teachers to provide the community with information how autism affects learning.

In the community, I have seen how the librarians in our public library are supportive of these children as they come in for programs such as story hour, or just to select books. Dentists, doctors and hairstylists all taking the time to do what it takes to make each visit easier. The teachers in community education, community members with a special interest they want to share, work with parents who want their children to be able to participate in programs with their peers. Many businesses in town have supported employment of these young men and women as they learn the skills it takes to get and keep a job, including Hy-Vee, Great Grains, Hardees, Dairy Queen and many others I have failed to mention.

It is also through the support of their peers in the community that these children are successful. Some of these young peers have received awareness training through the school and many have received it from the families of the children with autism. Families affected by autism have drawn upon the patience of their friends to make sure that their children are making friends and learning the social skills of how to play and interact with peers in a positive way. At the high school, the Ahlahasa shared a story about two of the students with autism so that others would have a better understanding. Whatever way that this greater understanding has come about leads to the success of all children.

And, of course, the families. Every family that has a child with autism works every day to make sure that their child grows up to reach their highest potential. They get to see the gift and the challenge that their child faces everyday. They have a firsthand understanding of their child’s perspective that seems at times so confusing, yet at other times so wise. These families do everything they can and we, as a community, will continue to support them in whatever manner we can.

We are all a part of the “village.”

Albert Lea resident Kim Butler is speech and language pathologist in the early childhood special education program in the Albert Lea Area Schools.