April has been designated as National Autism Awareness Month by the Autism Society of America, and the Edison Board of Education passed a motion pledging its support to ensure learning and success for our students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ”Autistic” means a pervasive developmental disability, which significantly impacts verbal and non-verbal communication, and social interaction that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.
Onset of autism is generally evident before age three. Diagnosis of autism is performed by a certified speech-language specialist and by a neurodevelopmental physician. Ranging on a spectrum from mild to severe, there are 1 in 68 individuals with autism in the United States, but New Jersey has a higher incidence with 1 in 41. The prevalence of autism in boys is 4.5 times higher than girls: 1 in 42 boys are diagnosed with autism, as compared to 1 in 189 girls.
Edison Township provides a full continuum of placements to meet the needs of students on the autism spectrum. There are approximately 200 students with autism in-district and 35 students out-of-district. Teachers and paraprofessionals serve our in-district students in 18 self-contained classrooms from kindergarten through 8th grade. In addition, the district has ten full day self-contained pre-school disabled classrooms supporting the needs of students on the autism spectrum. Additional self-contained classes for students with autism for the elementary grades and at the high school are currently being considered.
Instructional methodologies and strategies based on the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) are used in the self-contained classes to engender meaningful and positive changes in behavior. Web-based Rethink lessons are available for parent and staff review, and parents have online access to videos and support from Rethink. Parent training clinics guided by three Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) and designed to support families of students on the spectrum have been established at each school. These parent clinics facilitate and support the students’ generalization and maintenance of positive behaviors across school, home, and community settings.
Schools throughout Edison will celebrate different events in honor of Autism Awareness for April 2016. All elementary schools will be participating on April 6th in “Bubbles for Autism” to raise awareness through blowing bubbles. “Light It Up Blue” Staff Denim Day will take place on April 26th and, during the entire month of April, there will be an Autism Awareness Book Share, with teachers reading books to their classes, such as “The A in Autism Stands for Awesome”.
Kudos to all our students, teachers, staff and parents for raising the consciousness of the needs of our students with autism.
Frank Heelan, Ed.D
President, Edison Board of Education