News Article Details

Students learn about autism through assembly experience

The Herald - 4/4/2017

April 04--SHARPSVILLE -- Several Sharpsville High School students attempted to draw a snowman by following verbal directions of a chosen few students in the audience.

It wasn't easy. What made following directions difficult was the rest of their fellow students in the school's auditorium were talking very loudly as bright lights swirled around them.

This was just one of the demonstrations given Friday at the school's assembly designed to teach what life might be like if they were autistic.

Mackenzie Springer, a 10th-grader at the school, helped to create the learning experience. Plans for the assembly were started in December.

"We got so much support from everyone," Springer said. "I think a lot of people learned and grew in understanding today."

Her fellow students agreed.

"It broadened my perspective on a lot of things," said Gillian Demofonte, a Sharpsville senior.

Science is still on the learning curve in understanding autism.

Autism is a type of behavior that was only described and formally diagnosed in the early 1980s. Before that autistic students were thought to be oddballs, bad learners or worse.

Eventually, science began to discover there was a lot more going on in the minds of these children and their behavior.

Signs of autism are:

-- Scripted speech such as repeating rehearsed lines over and over again

-- Difficulty determining lasting relationships

-- Struggles to connect with others or not showing interest in others

-- Poor hand-to-eye coordination

-- Short attention span

-- Difficulty with fine motor tasks because of sensory issues

-- Acting very anxious and having a need for constant reassurance

-- Exhibiting repetitive behaviors such as clapping, walking on toes and hand flapping

Each child is different, said Principal Tim Dadich. One autistic student may have more problems with their attention span while another may have bigger issues with feeling anxious.

A big misperception, Dadich said, is autism prevents a child from being successful.

"Parents of a young boy diagnosed with autism were told he may never graduate from high school," Dadich said. "That same boy went on to graduate from Westminster College and now is going for his masters."

Another common belief is that autism is a disease.

"Autism is not a disease," Dadich said. "You just don't cure it."

With April being Autism Awareness Month, the causes and treatment of the disorder is something he follows closely. His son, Carter, has been diagnosed with autism.

A second-grader at Mercer Area School District, he knows what to do if he begins to feel over-anxious.

"He gives himself a sensory break," Dadich said.

While it sounds too simple to be effective, it has become a proven way for many to bring them down from an emotional high. Going into a quiet room with no distractions is the best remedy.

At Sharpsville, the school has a special room designed for autistic students who need to calm themselves. They can relax in a swinging chair, stretch out on a mat or bounce a ball.

Like his own son, Dadich gives encouragement to his students.

"There's lots of things waiting out there for them," he said.


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