High school newspaper story:
Autism. A word that many people are familiar with but few actually understand.
To help with that lack of understanding, April has been dedicated as Autism Awareness Month. People all over the community are asked to be involved, including the Bellevue West population. School psychologist Joni Christensen and speech pathologist Ashley Kouba began taking action to spread awareness.
“Autism is an invisible disability. Students get overlooked, so we want to help these students fit in with their peers,” Kouba said.
One tool that helps autistic students interact with their peers is the Circle of Friends. This is a group that selects responsible students to help mentor fellow students with autism. The purpose of this group is to build friendships and teach social skills.
“This group helps them to navigate the social world during the school day. Times like lunch and when students are in the commons, gives them a familiar face and a safe person to interact with,” Christensen said.
The Autism Awareness Partners provide the funding for this group.
“It is a very neat concept,” Christensen said.
A plethora of events has been planned for Autism Awareness Month. A couple of events include a special Storm Chasers game on May 4, and an event at the Omaha Children’s Museum where families of autistic children get in for free.
April 2 is a day dedicated to raising awareness of autism throughout the halls of Bellevue West. Students are asked to wear blue in support of the cause. Kouba and Christensen, with the help of student mentors, are making posters to spread the word on this event.
Each poster incorporates the color blue or colorful puzzle pieces that are supposed to present a deeper meaning than just being bright.
“Autism is a mystery and that’s what the puzzle pieces represent,” Christensen said.
Kouba and Christensen are also informing students around Bellevue West about what autism really is.
“We are going to have a booth set up in the commons during lunch once a week,” Kouba said.
The halls are expected to be lit up blue when students come back from break to support autistic children everywhere.
“I think they have so much to offer because each student with autism is different from the next,” Christensen said.
For more information on what autism is and events for Autism Awareness Month, visit autismspeaks.org