“We want to change the meaning of disability,” said MHS SPED teacher Suzanne Smith on the overall goals of the project. “We want people to see autism as a different ability. (My students) teach me things. If you are aware and know what is out there, you can be more open and accepting and learn to form relationships with people who do things differently.”
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behavior. It is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).
Two students in Smith’s high school class at MHS are autistic.
“The symptoms can be mild or severe,” said Smith. “One of the biggest indicators is the way a person communicates. We think if someone doesn’t talk that they are doing something wrong, they’re not doing something wrong. All of the autistic students I have worked with communicate wonderfully, some just don’t take the time to stop and learn that.”
Smith is attempting to raise broad awareness about autism but also acknowledged the community’s openness.
“I ask the kids to step out of their comfort zones by doing these things, and they do,” said Smith. “I just would like other people to acknowledge and recognize that. It is not that our community is not accepting, because I think this community is definitely one of the more supportive communities and school districts.”
She would also like to change some of the rhetoric that comes with identifying individuals with autism and other special abilities.
“I really want to find another term for ‘special needs’,” said Smith. “I don’t have special needs children, I have children with special abilities. Autism is one.”
The class held their bake sale for the project Tuesday, which they began preparing for on Friday. All proceeds raised throughout the week will go toward upcoming class events and projects.
The class is walking three-and-a-half laps around the track at Mustang Stadium each day this week, beginning at 10 a.m., with the ultimate goal being to reach a total of five kilometers by Friday.
There is no single cause for Autism. There is currently no medical detection or cure for Autism spectrum disorder, which can cost a family roughly $60,000 per year on average. Lifelong expenses, however, can be reduced by two-thirds with proper diagnosis and early intervention.