Autism Awareness Month 2014

MULTIMEDIA ESSAY: National Autism Awareness Month

Article by Robert Stoneback; Photos and Video by Robert Inglis The Daily Item April 16, 2014


If Tami Williams could teach people only one thing about her students, it’s how different each one is.

Williams is an autistic support teacher, employed by the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit, who teaches six autistic students at Liberty Valley Intermediate School. Her students are in grades 3 through 5.

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There are a lot of preconceived notions that children with autism display mostly negative qualities, she said. That, however, is not the case, and it’s something she wanted to stress during April’s Autism Awareness Month.

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“They have a lot of strengths and a lot of successes,” she said. Two of her current students have just started to use sign language, when previously they never communicated in any way. The two now know 20 different signs, Williams said. Another decided to participate in their third-grade musical program for the first time while a fourth attended his first birthday party with other children.

The difference is that Williams’ classroom gives these students the social tools they lacked before, she said.

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Williams, who has been an autistic support teacher for the past 16 years, said she enjoys working with autistic students the most because they work best in a carefully-ordered environment.

“It works well for me because it’s very structured,” she said.

Unlike regular classrooms, where one teacher generally addresses their students as a group, each student in Williams’ class gets one on one time. This can be with her or one of her two paraprofessional assistants.

Each student’s class work is tailored to them as well, with some focusing on academics while others study sign language skills.

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For the two students who are non-verbal and use signing and gestures to talk, Williams and her assistants work with their families to teach them how to communicate.

Other students become very anxious in group settings and need help with social skills. In these cases, a student will be accompanied by a teacher whenever they enter a normal education classroom.


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Autism Awareness Month 2014