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Bringing awareness to autism

FPS staff report

Autism Awareness month
BAKING PARTNERS. Residents of St. John’s Villa in Carrollton and students in the Autism Unit of Bell-Herron Middle School are shown above with just baked cookies and icing.
From left are Amy See, Amy Bowden, Robert Barker, Sandy Dittmer, Joey Burrier and Riley Sprague.

In order to highlight the growing need for concern and awareness about autism, the Autism Society has been celebrating National Autism Awareness Month since the 1970s. The United States recognizes April as a special opportunity for everyone to educate the public about autism and issues within the autism community.

Carrollton Exempted Village School District established an Autism Unit within Bell Herron Middle School (BHMS) which began during the 2011-2012 school year.  Since its inception, the unit has flourished into a multi-faceted program, which focuses on the individual student and their needs both individually and collectively.  Based on the needs of this population, traditional academics and a core curriculum were not the focal point of this unit.  The unit focuses predominately on what these student’s need, which are a functional curriculum, social skills and life skills. 

The Autism Unit at BHMS has implemented two very beneficial programs for the students.  One program is a life skills program in which students attend a local community member’s home once weekly to work on skills such as independent living, cooking, cleaning, hygiene and social skills.  The second program, established this year, is a pre-vocational/community based program in conjunction with St. John’s Villa.

St. John’s Villa in Carrollton is a private, not-for-profit agency that serves people with developmental disabilities. Services and programs include, but are not limited to residential services at St. John’s Villa, “Supported Living” services to individuals residing in their community(s), vocational services and non-medical transportation.

Jamie Rawson, intervention specialist at BHMS shared, “The partnership between St. John’s Villa and our students has thus far been very adventurous for all parties.  Our students have the opportunity to apply the skill they learn within a classroom setting into a real-life setting.  They have the opportunity to learn pre-vocational skills in a natural environment that will prepare them for future employment.  The social skills/interactions and friendships they are gaining are experiences that will last a lifetime.”

This weekly programenables students in the Autism Unit the opportunity to focus on pre-employment skills which will potentially and optimistically prepare them for a future in the work force.   They complete a variety of work tasks within the kitchen/ restaurant as well as in the vocational/woodshop area.  The students have the opportunity to be exposed to a real life work environment and formulate relationships/interactions with members of the community.

Ric Brown, president/CEO of St. John’s Villa stated, “St. John’s Villa as a host facility for the Bell Herron Middle School autism unit students to observe and participate in pre-vocational skill development opportunities, lends itself to our mission to support people with developmental disabilities.  These opportunities are a “partnership” between two willing entities that find it critically important for students in the Autism Unit to learn and grow, working obviously to develop pre-vocational independence, in addition to opening up other opportunities, and helping to develop meaning and quality in all areas of their lives.”

As part of National Autism Awareness Month, the Autism Unit at Bell Herron Middle School and the residents and staff at St. John’s Villa have decided to collaborate and have a fundraiser for the BHMS Autism classroom.   The fundraiser will be a cookie sale in which puzzle piece (Autism symbol) sugar cookies will be made at the Villa by the students and residents.  This collaborative effort will allow  students and residents to work together in order to make the cookies and prepare them for the bake sale.  The Bake Sale will take place April 25th from 10 a.m. - 1:30 p.m. at St. John’s Villa, 701 Crest St., Carrollton.

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