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Autism program helps students with the daily routine

They all sat around one table at Steve’s Pizza on Main Street in Austin at noon Wednesday, kids and adults, chatting and laughing. They were having a good time.

Steve’s great pizza brought them there, but Autism Spectrum Disorder made them a group.

With the help from some of those same adults, the youngsters had spent part of Monday preparing for the outing. "We practiced ‘sitting together and eating skills,’" said Erin Dilley, a co-director with Karianne Sis of the "All Access Community Explorations’’ program at Historic Hormel House.

HHH Executive Director Laura Helle announced the start of the program for sixth to 12th grade students in July. "Our students and staff will be seen around Austin pursuing outdoor recreation opportunities and visiting restaurants.

"They will gain new skills and build new connections in our community that will serve them for a lifetime."


It allows autistic children the opportunity to go places and do things that would otherwise be impossible for them, because they wouldn’t know how to deal with the experience or with each other.

"What can sometimes looks like misbehavior, is actually a learning disorder of social understanding," Dilley said. They can be quite bright but not able to function socially, she explained. A spectrum disorder is a group of disorders. Symptoms can vary.

Part of social interaction involves money. "That’s why each took a bill up to pay the cashier," she noted.

From a box on the table, Dilley took out a backpack that had a wallet inside.

"Usually each student gets $5, which does the job at McDonalds or Donut Connection, but we realized they could just slap that down and pick up their change. So this time they got a five, two ones and 50 cents."

When her bill came to $6.50, one student looked at her money and said she would not have enough.

"Did you know that you can pay with a five and two ones and get change back? Dilley asked.

The girl came back with a smile. "That was easy," she said.


"On Mondays we are pre-teaching our Wednesday trips," Dilley said. In this case the group watched a video of Mower County’s new Justice Center and the restaurant.

"Research shows that kids with autism need more time to process information," Dilley said. "These kids typically don’t deal well with surprises."

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