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Schools step up efforts to help autistic students

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POSTED April 10, 2013 1:12 a.m.

One in 88 children will be diagnosed with autism.

For boys, that number drops down to one in 54.

And whether it’s a better understanding of the autism spectrum, how to properly recognize and diagnose the disorder or environmental factors that are leading organizations like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to reexamine its numbers – or a combination of the three – the ratios certainly aren’t sliding in the direction that experts would like to see.

But those affected – whether it’s somebody that falls on the autism spectrum themselves or a parent or loved one that sees the disorder up close and personal – aren’t taking the recent studies and reclassifications sitting down.

Last week people from around the globe sported blue for World Autism Awareness Day to show their solidarity and their support for the loved ones in their life affected by the developmental disorder.

While the numbers might be disparaging, early behavioral and cognitive therapy – the sort of instruction that San Joaquin County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent of Special Education Kathy Skeels oversees – can play a huge role in fostering the development of an autistic child.

“I think that the research has shown that early intervention is really the key to helping children improve, and that’s why you see a lot of preschool intervention,” said Skeels. “We’re very fortunate that John McFall School was chosen to be part of a pilot program known as ‘The Captain’s Project’ that promotes evidence based treatments that are based on research.

“It will provide us with a list of things that we know will be effective – research that is done on research essentially.”

Autism is a developmental disability that severely impacts both verbal and nonverbal communication as well as social interaction. Repetitive activities, stereotyped movements, resistance to social change or change in daily routines and unusual responses to sensory experiences can all be signs of autism – which is typically diagnosed before the age of three.

But there are top-notch educational opportunities in San Joaquin County for parents of autistic students that can’t afford the private schools or the in-home tutors.

Lathrop, Veritas and Joshua Cowell Elementary Schools all have satellite autism programs that start at kindergarten and continue through the third grade. Joshua Cowell’s program continues through the sixth grade, while the programs offered at McFall – seven of the nine classes on-campus are geared towards autistic students – provides services from age three up through 22.

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