School staff supports Autism Awareness
Faculty and staff members at Russellville’s West Elementary School were looking a little blue this past Tuesday, but it wasn’t because of their mood.
Teachers and support personnel alike donned blue T-shirts in support of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.
The awareness day has gained momentum in recent years as the number of people diagnosed continues to climb.
WES special education teacher Carly Hellums said with the number of diagnosed cases growing each year, she felt it was important that the day be recognized locally to show support for those in the community who struggle or who have loved ones who struggle with autism.
“This disorder is very prominent now and touches many families,” Hellums said.
“The numbers keep rising every year and now the statistics show that one in 50 children will be diagnosed with autism.
“With numbers like that, it is very likely that almost every teacher will encounter an autistic student at some point in their professional career, and it’s important that we as educators realize the best ways to teach and interact with these students.”
Much like the national slogan “Different, Not Less,” Hellums said awareness is the key to understanding that each person with autism is just as special and unique as someone who doesn’t have the disorder.
“Understanding what autism is or how it affects a person is a necessary step towards acceptance,” Hellums said.
“If you see a child throwing a fit in the grocery store, you might assume it’s because the child is acting out or misbehaving. These children and their parents get stares from everyone around them because it seems like the child should just be disciplined, but what you may not realize is the child could be autistic and there was a sound on the other aisle that set him or her off.
“Knowing these kinds of things and knowing how to react and handle different situations is so important in order to let these children and parents know they are accepted.”
Hellums also said that awareness is important in order for early detection and treatment of the disorder to take place.
“Parents especially need to be aware of the signs of autism because the earlier the disorder is detected the better the possibilities are for the rest of their life,” she said.
While the World Autism Awareness Day is important for acceptance and early detection, for Hellums, the awareness day is something she is personally passionate about as well.
“I’ve always known I wanted to work with special needs children,” Hellums said.
“I had an experience working in classrooms with people who had autism and I knew immediately I was interested in the condition and in working with those who had to deal with it on a daily basis.”
Hellums said since becoming a special education teacher and working with all types of special needs students, not only those who are autistic, she said the rewards she receives far outweigh the challenges.
“When you work with these amazing students, you can see the wheels turning but they aren’t always able to meet whatever task they are working on,” she said.
“But when you see the wheels turning and something finally clicks and they begin to understand, it is such a rewarding thing to witness.”
Hellums said this is the second year WES has recognized World Autism Awareness Day and she plans to continue recognizing the day in the future.
“The administration, faculty and staff have all been so supportive of this event and I appreciate their willingness to stand up and be a voice for this disorder that affects so many people,” she said.
“I love working for this school system and I hope we will continue to be a light of acceptance for those who are affected by autism.”
Hellums said for those who wish to know more about autism, such as the signs or ways to diagnose the disorder, many resources and information can be accessed at www.autismspeaks.org.