SHES students bring Autism Awareness

by Jill Kleinheinz and Angie Fino, Stearley Heights Elementary School
Stripes Okinawa

Our Dolphins were feeling "Blue" recently as they participated in the Light it Up Blue campaign in support of April as National Autism Awareness month. Students wore blue in order to show their support for family, friends, and classmates experiencing autism as well as to raise awareness of autism.

During the month of April, our SHES Dolphins are learning about autism, the unique qualities of individuals with autism, and the daily challenges these individuals may face because of autism. We strive to go beyond autism awareness and promote autism acceptance.

On Wednesday, April 11th, many of our students had the opportunity to “Take a Walk in the Shoes” of someone with autism as they went through 8 sensory stations that simulated the heightened sensory perceptions individuals with autism may experience on a daily basis. The goal of this event was to help students understand the frustrations caused by these sensory challenges so that they gain empathy for their friends with these challenges. Understanding the feelings of others and considering their perspective will foster an environment of support for individuals with autism as well as for anyone who is facing challenges due to sensory, social, and learning differences.

Third grade students from Mrs. Davidson and Mrs. Villa’s classes had the opportunity to actually run these sensory stations. In order to prepare for this responsibility, their teachers, in collaboration with the District Autism Specialists, provided the students with a number of lessons and hands-on learning activities so they would be prepared to answer questions and share information about autism.

William Bartlow, a third grade student in Mrs. Davidson’s 3rd class was a presenter at the “Dot-to-Dot” station. Students at this station looked at the reflection of a dot-to-dot sheet in a mirror and tried to connect the dots on paper (by only looking in the mirror). This gave students the opportunity to experience difficulties in visual perception through the eyes of a student with autism. William stated, “I thought autism was a little thing, but it is teaching kids that students with autism are ordinary kids and we cannot judge them by their actions.”

Some of the other stations included “Cheeky Chipmunk” where students put two marshmallows in their mouth and then tried to speak at the same time. This gave them a feeling of the difficulties and frustrations that students with autism can experience in communicating. Another station was “Distorted High-Five and Walk the Line.” Students experienced the difficulties that some individuals experience due to dysregulation of their vestibular sense (sense of balance) and proprioceptive sense (eye-hand coordination) as they were tasked to walk a line while wearing goggles that impeded their vision.

Mia Orozco, a fifth grade student in Mr. Riley’s class was on the receiving end of the 8 sensory stations. She stated that this experience made her realize how difficult it is for people with autism to experience life on a daily basis. “I only had to experience this for 30 minutes, but they have to experience this their entire life.”

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