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April is national Autism Awareness Month

Autism spectrum disorders are the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States, affecting 1 in 110 children and 1 in 70 boys. These rates mark an increase from prevalence rates of 1 in 166 in 2006 and 1 in 150 in 2007. More children will be identified with some form of autism than with juvenile diabetes, childhood cancer and AIDS combined.

In response to the ongoing needs of students, Austin Public Schools is working to raise autism awareness.

The district's special services team provides assessment, intervention and support services for students identified as meeting the state’s educational criteria for autism and those who demonstrate educational needs. In addition, the district provides and collaborates with community agencies to offer numerous autism awareness and training opportunities as well as family support events.

The following is a description of some of the learning and collaboration opportunities occurring in the school district and community at large.

• Austin Public Schools' Autism Spectrum Disorders Task Force has expanded to include an ASD Core team. The team is a central group of autism professionals who assist the district with creating a plan to support all students at a building level from birth to age 21 in alignment with recent updates from the National Autism Center’s Evidence Based Practice and Autism in Schools and the National Professional Development Center on ASD.


In conjunction with the work of the ASD Core team, the ASD task force provides ongoing autism training and updates to autism professionals throughout the district. Topics covered this year include research and best practice, person-centered planning, positive behavioral supports and tours of various autism educational settings at the Community Learning Center, Bank School and Ellis Middle School.

• This month, Austin's Early Childhood Special Education Autism Program, whose team leader is teacher Jenni Harves, was selected as an Expansion Model Site by the National Professional Development Center. Austin Public Schools' ECSE Autism Program is one of only five in the state to participate in the second year of the professional development initiative. The goal is to increase the use of evidence-based practices to enhance services provided for students with autism and create a model of sustainable training and technical assistance for educational providers to learners with autism.

• Throughout this school year, autism parent information meetings have been held, covering topics such as transition planning and the development of communication and behavioral supports. Upcoming autism parent information meetings are scheduled for April 5 and May 3. For information, call  Melissa Larson at 433-0955.

• The ASD Core team is collaborating with Community Education to provide a series of awareness training throughout April and May. The first in a three-part series will be April 19, titled "Andrew’s Story." Call Community Education at 460-1706 to register or for more information.

• Austin Public Schools and the Parenting Resource Center are collaborating on a project to assist in the development of a Parent Lead ASD family support group in Mower County.

• Mower, Dodge and Olmsted county Interagency Early Intervention Committees and the Austin Noon Kiwanis are sponsoring the "Discovery Series: A Course Designed for Parents of Children who have Autism Spectrum Disorder" on May 8 at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Austin. For questions and registration information, call Becky Tennis Hanson at 460-1710.

• Hormel Historic Home will host the first Circle of Friends Day Camp for elementary-age children on the autism spectrum July 26-30. For information and registration details, call Laura Helle at 433-4243 or go to the home’s Web site, www.hormelhistorichome.org/Site/HHH_Home.html.

If you have concerns about autism and your child, talk to your child’s doctor or nurse or contact the school district’s special services office at 433-0955. Research shows that intervention can greatly assist students with autism. The first step is referral and exploring the need for autism assessment.

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