Since 1970, the Autism Society has recognized the month of April as National Autism Awareness Month (NAAM.) With the prevalence of autism on the rise in America, there is an increased need for awareness about this pervasive developmental disorder which now affects 1 in 68 children. “Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.,” according to Autismspeaks.org. In response to this, the Crier asked Superintendent of Schools Joanne Benton and Dr. John O’Connor how Wilmington and Tewksbury, respectively, address educational support and awareness of the varying abilities students have within each district.
“Wilmington has had specially designed instruction for students eligible for special education services within the autism eligibility category for many years,” said Benton. “Over the past six years, we have expanded our classrooms that are based in applied behavioral analysis and have a board certified behavior analyst working full-time with these programs. Next year we will expand this programming to the high school level. We have also provided professional development to teachers working with students with autism.”
It is always helpful if parents encourage their students to understand that everyone is differently abled, Benton adds.
In Tewksbury, public schools have been providing special education and other supportive services for all students, said O’Connor. “We also have a no bullying law which has gone into effect – in an effort to combat bullying, harassment, or intimidation. Schools work on this all the time. From the elementary level up through the high school level, we are cognizant of the fact that students come to us with different levels of intelligence and varying levels of interpersonal skills and we work at trying to be inclusive for all students.”