April is Autism Awareness Month and students across Spring Branch ISD are engaging in lessons and activities to learn about autism and become Empathetic and Self-aware individuals.
Throughout April, Frostwood Elementary students are attending lessons during their library period, where they are learning the meaning of autism, the similarities and differences and how to interact with Autism Program Preparing Learners for Excellence (APPLE) students.
“It is important for our students to develop mutual respect for each other,” said Heather Bothe, Frostwood librarian. “By the end of these lessons, we hope students can talk about autism and are equipped with the tools to communicate with someone with autism and overall, be an empathetic friend to all.”
Each week, the lessons focus on a different area. In the first week, students learned what autism is and what it can look like. During the second week, they heard about famous individuals with autism. The third week focused on communication and how autistic people sometimes need alternative ways to communicate with others. The fourth week concentrates on how to be Empathetic and Self-aware, through a book and a writing prompt.
Bothe notes that Frostwood’s Collaborative Spirit made the lessons possible. Teachers, faculty and parents came together to help students understand autism.
Lessons like this emphasize SBISD’s Core Characteristics and prepare students to become Empathetic and Self-aware individuals that appreciate differences and care for their own and others’ emotional, mental and physical health.
Milly Sordo Lackey, a Frostwood parent, notes that at the end of the lessons students can understand what autism is and how those students have different abilities.
“Young students are curious, it’s just their nature!” said Lackey. “Their minds are ready to learn about the world around them, including the people they see every day. It’s important for us to educate young minds about those who may be different than they are. When we don't, that curiosity turns into fear and nervousness. But when we answer their questions, it turns into acceptance, empathy and for some, even a passion to help others!”
Similarly, Kayla Van Buren, APPLE teacher at Hunters Creek Elementary (HCE), agrees that students should learn about those with special needs and should celebrate each other’s diversity. She notes that fostering connections and awareness through discussion helps promote understanding and compassion.
Van Buren helped host HCE’s Autism Awareness Night on Thursday, April 20. The evening was filled with activities and informational booths. Participants engaged in an autism-themed photo booth, sensory lab stations and even an obstacle course.
As an APPLE teacher, Van Buren wanted the community to celebrate and gain knowledge about students with autism. She was inspired to become a special education teacher by her sister, who has autism. Van Buren understands the importance of spreading awareness and knew a night to engage and inform students, employees, parents and community members was necessary.
Belong Bakery, Aspire Accessories, Social Motion, Aceing Autism and other organizations attended the event to share information about their programs or businesses.
“My sister works at a few of these businesses, as they employ individuals with disabilities. Showing our current elementary school-aged families the various places their child can belong now and in the future is so important to me, especially having lived through this with my sister,” said Van Buren. “It turned out to be an incredible way for families to gain information and resources and make connections with these special organizations for their children.”
Participants were excited to engage in the activities alongside their students and learn more about autism.
“Autism is more prevalent than we realize and we must spread awareness about the subject to be more inclusive,” said Kelly Cameron, an HCE parent. “This event has done a great job in informing not only our students but our entire community.”
This is the second year the event has taken place. Last year, the event brought together over 150 people. Between students, parents, volunteers and community members, this year, the event attendance grew to nearly 500 people. Van Buren hopes to continue hosting the event and to continue raising awareness.
“I hope the takeaway of this night is that families feel a sense of community and support,” said Van Buren. “It was amazing to see how our entire school came together to celebrate our students with autism and any disability. The message of inclusivity, compassion and empathy came to life and I loved watching our school spirit grow.”
HCE’s Autism Awareness Night reinforces SBISD’s Core Values. The event encouraged participants to expand their Limitless Curiosity by learning and engaging in conversations that are everyone’s responsibility.
“I want to thank everyone who made this event possible. This is a representation of our outstanding community and our efforts to serve Every Child,” said Robye Snyder, HCE principal.
View the full album of celebrations!