Living with Autism

April 2, 2008 10:20:47 PM PDT
Right now, 572 students diagnosed with autism are enrolled in Fresno County Schools. It's a challenge embraced by both teachers and parents.Story time is typically quiet time but Kirby York lights up when it's time to sing or dance.

The fifth grader attends Alvina School in Caruthers. He returned to this special education class after spending much of fourth grade in a regular classroom.

Courtney York, Kirby's Mother: "For me it was an easy decision because I felt he really needed that support. I felt that the school he was at, they were doing the best they could do but it really wasn't suiting Kirby's needs."

Courtney York teaches elementary school in Kerman. She knows how difficult it can be to place autistic students in the mainstream.

"If you have a child who is really having a hard time focusing its just not an appropriate placement for him."

Peggy Nichols has been assessing and teaching autistic kids for over two decades.

Peggy Nichols: "The parents want inclusion. They want their child to be with non-handicapped peers but they are also very protective because they have learned how difficult and how scared the students can be in the environment."

Nichols eases autistic kids into head start programs to see how they fit in.

"Some of the kids definitely do need a specialized program. They're not able to learn in the regular Ed classroom."

But autism covers a wide spectrum from severe to highly functional. Bullard High Sophomores Jeffrey Barkdull and Robbie Kalpakoff are both autistic. But they blend in quite well in Mrs. Quiring's multi-media class.

Robbie Kalpakoff: "My biggest challenge is trying to keep up. Half the time is pretty hard."

Robbie and Jeffrey have special aides to help them along. It keeps the general Ed teachers from being overwhelmed.

Mike Fletcher: "All special Ed's goal is to make sure the students are prepared to go into the mainstream."

All 29 students in the Bullard autistic program spend time in mainstream classes.

Jeffrey Barkdull: "Social skills. That's the one thing we have to learn with autism. It messes up your social skills."

Jill Barkdull, Jeffrey's Mom: "He loves to please his teachers. He works hard he really tries to be everything he can be."

Jeffrey's mother is the school nurse so she's never far away.

"It makes me feel safe."

A support system is essential to the success of these students. Fresno County Special Ed programs offer early intervention.

"We would work with the child. Figure out the best way to teach them and then teach their teachers, their assistants and of course their parents."

"Autism is such a specific disability that each student with autism is going to exhibit a different behavior and strength and weakness."

"I want to be like working in the special Ed field. Where I can help kids who need the help I think I'm perfect for that actually."

The kids just want to raise awareness and perhaps your spirits at the same time.


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