Autism Awareness Activities in Elementary Schools

April 23, 2013
Chelsea Budde

Last year, I was so impressed by the efforts of the Swanson Elementary community in Brookfield, Wis.  I was certain they were an anomaly in the education universe.  But I am glad to report I am WRONG!  There are other metro Milwaukee schools (and you likely know of one in your area) capitalizing on the opportunities Autism Awareness Month affords for the building of a culture of acceptance.

What's unique about Cushing Elementary in Delafield, Wis., is that the staff (namely, Occupational Therapist Teresa Wozniak) has an annual plan to address peer awareness throughout the school year.  To complement her work, which includes reading books and answering questions about students with diverse abilities, autism parents Mary Day and Karen Cain started planning additional activities for April way back in the fall.  Here's what they did this month:

  • Displayed original posters throughout the school with helpful tips about autism, and draped a banner across the school's entrance.
  • Decorated an informative bulletin board in the foyer showcasing famous people who have autism.
  • Asked students to write letters of support to their classmates with autism to demonstrate how much they care.
  • Organized a staff luncheon of appreciation.
  • Had student leaders make blue puzzle piece pins for all school community members to wear. 
  • Recommended all students wear blue on April 17th, following two days of Good Friend Peer Sensitivity Workshops by grade level.
This multi-modal, wrap-around model of autism awareness fosters acceptance and empathy, and moves autism from the shadows of understanding the the positive light of social relatedness.  Teachers at Cushing incorporated this concept into their curriculum, leading mini-lessons on the topic which could be tied back to learning standards.
Karen said, "I can't tell you how many times, while I have been at school, I have been stopped by staff to tell me how happy they are and love what we have done."  We were glad to be a part of it!  And we could tell by the insight of the peers and the thoughtfulness of their questions that they were learning invaluable social-emotional lessons.
What did your school do this month to promote autism acceptance?  What will you plan to do for the 2013-'14 school year?
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