Raising awareness of autism
Church, school project in Manawa
By Holly Neumann
Youth groups from St. Paul Lutheran Church, St. Paul Lutheran School and the Manawa School District have teamed up to help raise awareness of autism.
“We have a few members at our church with autistic children,” Youth Group Leader said Michelle Kaczorowski, youth group leader at St. Paul. “I could tell that not many people understood what autism was and I wanted to bring education and awareness to our congregation.”
As a Thrivent member, each year Kaczorowski can apply for two $250 projects to do with her students. She brought up the idea of autism awareness to local children.
“Service projects are often organized to broaden our students’ worldviews, especially to show them how wide and high and long and deep is God’s love for His creation,” said Rev. Nate Reichle. “When the students were challenged to plan a service project, autism awareness quickly rose to the top of the list of possible efforts.”
From there, the project grew.
“It really snowballed with all of their ideas and wanting to do things at school too,” Kaczorowski said. “When I asked for permission to do some things at the Manawa School District, they got right on board and we all started planning.”
According to Special Education Teacher Lori Miller, from the Manawa School District, autism affects one in 68 children a year.
“Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the name for a group of developmental disorders that includes a wide range, of symptoms, skills and levels of disability,” she said.
Miller noted that people with ASD often have these characteristics: Ongoing social problems that include difficulty communicating and interacting with others; repetitive behaviors as well as limited interests or activities; symptoms that typically are recognized in the first two years of life, and/or symptoms that hurt the individual’s ability to function socially, at school or work, or other areas of life.
Some people are mildly impaired by their symptoms, while others are severely disabled.
“Autism, along with so many other unique challenges in life, is too often misunderstood and thus ignored,” said Reichle. “I was particularly impressed to be taught that autism can affect how people sense the world, namely that some people can hear colors, which is just one illustration of how unique autistic people are.”
Students were able to show their support for ASD by ordering a T-shirt in honor of the month, in addition to other activities.
“Each week students viewed a short video to better help them understand ASD,” said Miller. “They also enjoyed the trivia questions, prizes and on April 28, all students and staff were presented a pin or magnet supporting ASD.”
Miller said that the pins and magnets were made at school as a collaborative effort of Darren Carson’s/Dana Dean’s Life Skills class, senior art students, Calli Steffen and Lauren Mikkelson, as well as Sandra Cordes’ teacher assistant, Allison Bristol.
Students and staff were also given colorful paper puzzle pieces to write their name on, if they knew someone with ASD. The Youth Group then creatively displayed the pieces on the windows in the school lunchroom.
“It’s an awesome sight,” Miller said. “It turns out that there are many students and staff who know someone with ASD.”
According to the Autism Society, the puzzle pattern reflects the complexity of Autism Spectrum.
“All too often, we hear from individuals and families living with autism who have experienced misunderstandings or faced judgmental attitudes based on misinformed stereotypes,” said High School Principal Dan Wolfgram. “We know that indifference, intolerance and hostility towards autistic people and their families leads to extreme social isolation, mental illness and profoundly unhappy lives. But, we also know that helping young people, as well as teachers, to understand autism as they grow up will equip a new generation with the knowledge to accept and empathize with autistic people.”
Freshman Kellynn Kaczorowski hopes that her peers realize that people with autism are not any different than they are.
“They want friends as much as we want them, so why not just be friends with them,” she said. “They are such strong and amazing kids to be around. They will make your day in a heartbeat. I am so inspired by them.”