A new survey from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention says 1 in 50 U.S. school children has autism. While this number has increased in recent years, so have awareness levels. More parents and educators are focused on awareness and inclusion and less on the causation. They now know the early warning signs and how early interventions can help a child progress more rapidly and bring about positive change.

“One of the biggest gains in autism awareness is that children are now included,” says Dr. Barry Birnbaum, Special Education specialization coordinator in The Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership. “There was a time not so long ago when children with autism were excluded from classrooms and other integrated social activities.”

Socialization and integration in school activities and other social activities are critical for a child with autism, says Dr. Birnbaum. “There is a movement toward inclusion into the general education classroom. But full inclusion doesn’t work all of the time, and if it doesn’t, both parents and educators need to look at other alternatives.”

Dr. Birnbaum, who specializes in special education, assistive and adaptive technology for persons with special needs, and child advocacy, suggests parents and schools work closely together to support a child with autism. “More education on what autism is and recommendations on what parents can do outside of school to further what is taking place in the classroom are key,” says Dr. Birnbaum.

He recommends some of the following ways parents and educators can support a child with autism, both at home and in school:

  • Stay connected. Parents and educators need to stay in contact and work closely to follow the child’s established Individualized Education Plan (IEP) outlining the best course of action for the child. “If full inclusion isn’t working, parents and educators can look at alternatives for integration like lunch, recess, or gym for inclusion and socialization activities for the child,” says Dr. Birnbaum.

  • Maintain consistency. Parents should continue working on the skills and socialization activities that are being taught at school. Dr. Birnbaum suggests parents take children to the park, birthday parties, and other group activities where the child has an opportunity to advance and grow in their socialization skills.

  • Identify an advocate in school. Parents need to continue to be advocates for their child in the school system, but it’s also important to find advocates in the school, such as the teacher, a classroom aide, or autism specialist. Says Dr. Birnbaum, “It’s important to make sure that the teacher or educator is supportive of autism and can handle the child in the classroom. Identify someone who will be able to help your child if they go into sensory overload and can provide them with the necessary support to regain their composure and get back to the classroom.”

To celebrate National Autism Awareness Month in April, Walden students, alumni, faculty, and staff in Baltimore will be assembling tool kits for families with an autistic member who may be prone to wandering off from a safe environment. The National Autism Association’s Big Red Safety Box is given to these families free of charge in an effort to educate, raise awareness, and share simple tools that may assist them in preventing, and responding to, wandering-related emergencies. Register today.

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