Listening, Learning, and Kindness: April is Autism Awareness Month

 Since 1972, April has been the official Autism Awareness Month across the world. According to the CDC, 1 in 44 American children are diagnosed with Autism, enabling the month to be a period of listening, learning and spreading kindness to all people. The increased awareness of children with Autism, however, extends to Green Hope High School as well, making the month of April full of knowledge and recognition of differences much more relevant than many may believe. 

Through the incorporation of In-Class Resource (ICR), Extended Content Standards (ECS), Occupational Course of Study (OCS) and a variety of other Special Education programs, WCPSS created an academic and life-skill style of learning for these unique students. Based on the individual needs of each student, these classes offer skills ranging from standard academic classes to vocational learning to emotional support. 

In an interview with the GH Falcon, Nicklaus Baugh, a sophomore at Green Hope High School, spoke about his own experiences as a student with Autism.

I felt singled out a lot and I also felt like the teacher didn’t really understand me.

— Nicklaus Baugh ('24)

“I feel like my diagnosis has changed the way some people view me. As someone who’s high-functioning, it was harder for me to focus and get good grades in typical elementary school classrooms with a larger number of students. I felt singled out a lot and I also felt like the teacher didn’t really understand me,” said Nicklaus.

When asked specifically about Green Hope and how he feels as a member of the Falcon community despite having Autism, Nicklaus responded, “I think other students at Green Hope treat me fairly, and it makes me feel more included in the school than I did in elementary school. But, I wish more people understood that Autism is a spectrum and it’s different for everyone.”

Green Hope provides many opportunities for the general student body to assist and mentor students with unique abilities. One class offering for the student body is Physical Education Pupil Instructor (PEPI). The course enables general education students to pair up with special education students and work with them in a smaller setting. Students are able to form invaluable relationships with each other through learning and bonding. 

PEPI student and senior Lauren Dudley provided insight on why Autism Awareness Month is significant to her as someone who works daily with students who have Autism.

“The month makes people aware of other people’s differences and how we can embrace them rather than criticize each other for it. Some general education students see students with Autism and think of them differently, pushing the general education students away from getting to know them. Autism Awareness Month emphasizes showing a lot more kindness and respect to all kinds of people, regardless of whether or not they have a learning disability,” said Dudley.

Bismah Agha, another senior enrolled in PEPI, also commented on what the Green Hope student body needs to keep in mind, especially during Autism Awareness Month.

“Be open-minded, empathetic and loving. Just because a student has Autism doesn’t make them emotionally unaware. Students with Autism have feelings too, and they’re able to connect to you in their own caring way,” added Agha. 

Autism Awareness Month casts an impact beyond propelling others to take initiative and show kindness. It also addresses many of the false stereotypes and misconceptions associated with having Autism.

Ms. Danielle Jensen, a fourth-year Special Education teacher at Green Hope, discussed how each day in the ECS classroom is “unique and unpredictable.” Ms. Jensen also explained how crucial it is to view students with Autism as students first rather than allowing their special abilities to misconstrue one’s view of them. 

“The word Autism can be really negative sometimes. But, they’re really just kids who want to fit in and even though they have things that make them different, every student has things that make them different. Everyone does something that might be strange to someone else, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing,” stated Ms. Jensen.

Every student has things that make them different.

— Ms. Danielle Jensen, Special Education Teacher

Beyond students with Autism, parents of children with Autism also have vital perspectives on the importance of Autism Awareness Month. Just like any child, parents serve influential roles when raising their kids, and having a child with Autism is no exception. 

Mr. Matthew Mayse, an English IV instructor and the Leadership in Media advisor, spoke about his experiences as a parent of a child with Autism. 

“Parents work really hard. Sometimes, there’s a focus on the child, but sometimes we need to have a better focus on the support systems for children with Autism. It’s necessary to understand what parents go through,” stated Mr. Mayse.

Mr. Mayse also touched on how his exposure to a child with Autism has better equipped him to teach students with Autism in his classes at Green Hope. One of the things he has learned as both a teacher and parent is the necessity for bridging the gap between a child with Autism, their parent, and their teacher in any kind of school setting.

“I always try to reach out to the parents and take into account how they best handle the student prior to me doing any kind of intervention. As a parent of a child with Autism, I know it’s very different at home versus in the classroom.” 

You don’t have to have Autism to have struggles. It’s important that people recognize when someone is having difficulties with learning, but as a teacher, it’s not my job to diagnose them. It’s my job to teach them.

— Mr. Matthew Mayse

Autism Awareness Month doesn’t simply end on April 30th. The celebration of individuals who think differently happens in every moment as people of all background learn to value the importance of being unique.