Autism Awareness Month

LaurenStaffordpic_zps5e476472This post was written by Lauren Stafford, M.Ed. Lauren is currently the Vice President, Research and Professional Development for Monarch Teaching Technologies, and hosts the Teaching Students with Autism community on edWeb. She has worked as a Intervention Specialist with students in both public and private school settings in Virginia and Ohio, and most recently at the Monarch Center for Autism where she also served as an Academic Supervisor for four years, and acted as Entry Year Coordinator, LPDC Chairperson, Data Coordinator, and collaborator with Curriculum Design with Children’s Hospital Boston.

April brings us a month of celebrating our families and friends with Autism. It is AWARENESS about Autism, that each person with a diagnosis is a unique individual who is a brother, sister, son, daughter, aunt, uncle, neighbor, student, or friend. Recently the CDC released a report that 1 in 68 children are being diagnosed with Autism. Chances are you know someone on the Autism spectrum! New to Autism, learn more about the Diagnosis and criteria which leads to a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses for individuals on the Autism spectrum. Let’s go beyond the number, to the kids, the educators and families.

Smith Brothers, Round Rock Texas

Smith Brothers, Round Rock Texas

The Kids! Dr. Stephen M Shore, once said, “When you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism”. I’ve worked with hundreds of students with Autism, and I agree with Stephen, each and every one is unique! Minecraft, elevator shafts, curtain steamer, vacuum cleaners, Wizard of Oz tornado, Play-Doh, Pokémon,, baseball cards, antique cars, photography, geography… Are you aware that many people who have Autism may have intense interests and passions? Unfortunately, we often focus on the diagnosis and lose sight of the individual. We do have the ability to shape those interests into hobbies, goals, and careers as they transition into adulthood.

The Educators! Are you aware that the most prevalent intervention for Autism is Education? The National Professional Development Center for Autism has identified 27 evidence based practices for children with Autism. One of those is the use of visual supports, but most of the practices in the list also require visual supports for implementation. Research tells us technology is also essential for kids on the spectrum as well (computer aided instruction, also on the list). Children on the autism spectrum have extensive interests in computers, television and video; animated characters are more interesting than human figures; and, the majority of children spend more time with electronic media than with all other forms of play combined (Shane & Albert, 2008). Remember, knowledge is power, for PD on the practices, head to the AutismInternetModules!

For those of you who know me, know that I bring the love of visuals and technology together in my work, through Dr. Howard Shane and The Monarch Center for Children with Autism. We see a huge movement toward integrating technology into the classroom, interactive boards, iPads, tablets, apps, software and more. We can take those interests and shape them into dynamic learning opportunities. As we move toward Common Core and more rigorous standards based curriculum, we need to make sure all students have access and opportunity. Programs like VizZle, an interactive web based program, developed by the Monarch Center for Children with Autism, can help create a digital resource center for any teacher or school district. Resources and collaboration are essential, becoming a connected educator will help evolve your practice and your contributions to support and learn with others. I hope you will join us on’s Teaching Students with Autism community.

The Families! As a closing thought, be aware that every child with Autism has parents who are dedicated and devoted advocates. They know more about their children than anyone. Working collaboratively is essential. Parents often feel alone or isolated as well. Reach out and invite them for coffee, social events, or outings too! There are exceptional teachers, therapists, aides and assistants, neighbors, friends, and community members who can and will help make a difference. In the words of my good friend and parent of a child with Autism, Amy Smith “Cause every so often, ya need a helping hand…”