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Teachers learn to deal with autism in the classroom

By By Georgia E. Frye / staff writer
Sept. 4, 2003
Kim Robbins of Meridian wants her son to master education like other children so he can graduate from high school, go to college and land a high-paying job.
She believes Luke can do it all even though he has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, the highest functioning form of autism. Today, Luke is in a regular second-grade class at Poplar Springs Elementary School.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the brain's normal development of social and communication skills.
Core features include impaired social interactions, impaired verbal and nonverbal communication and restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior. Asperger's Syndrome is considered a mild form of autism.
Robbins and more than 50 teachers, parents and school administrators attended a workshop last week led by Dr. Mark Yeager from the Mississippi Department of Mental Health.
Yeager was in town to visit elementary schools in Meridian that have autistic children and to talk about how to deal with their special needs in the classroom.
Meridian public schools have eight students with autism. They attend Harris Upper Elementary, Poplar Springs Elementary, Parkview Elementary and Kate Griffin Junior High. Two are in regular classrooms.
Yeager said he led the workshop because the school system is interested in improving services to autistic students. Yeager said he wants to spread awareness to schools and teachers because autism is becoming more common.
Yeager said there is no known cause or cure for autism, but he said it is four times more likely to occur in boys than in girls.
Yeager said students with autism can be successful in a regular classroom, but he said it won't happen over night.
Alice Hunter, director of special education for Meridian public schools, said there is no specific curriculum in the district for autistic students. But she said she thinks there will be in the near future.
Hunter said an autistic student's biggest problem in the classroom in social.
The day-long workshop was sponsored by the Meridian Public School District and the Lauderdale County Mental Health Association. For more information about autism, visit www.teaam.org.

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