The beauty of mankind is that although people share several similarities, they also share differences. Those differences are what make each individual unique and a person in their own right.

Just as there is no one type of person there is not one type of person with autism. Recognizing that fact is a key to understanding those who are diagnosed with the disorder. There is no one type of autism, but many.

“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication,” according to the Autism Speaks website. “We know that there is not one autism but many subtypes, most influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.”

Meeting those strengths and challenges is something the Sedalia School District 200 strives to do on a daily basis.

“Sedalia 200 focuses on each individual student first,” Assistant Superintendent Chris Pyle said. “We then develop a plan with parent input on how to provide support to help each individual succeed.

“We are very fortunate to have Monica Harris who serves as an Autism Consultant for our District,” Pyle continued. “Monica leads the charge with our programming and is direct support to a dedicated group of staff members and all the students on our A-TEAM. She guides our team and ensures that we have proper supports in place.”

According to Pyle, Sedalia 200’s K-12 spectrum program focuses on developing the student’s academic, social-emotional, and communication skills. The district offers Social Thinking programs, classrooms equipped with sensory areas and specialized learning programs to meet a student at the level they require support.

“The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged,” according to information from Autism Speaks. “Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently. Several factors may influence the development of autism, and it is often accompanied by sensory sensitivities and medical issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures or sleep disorders, as well as mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and attention issues.”

Signs of autism begin during early childhood and usually last throughout adulthood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent data indicates autism impacts 1 in 58 children, which is a 30 percent increase from the previous estimate in 2012.

Indicators of autism usually appear by age 2 or 3. Some associated development delays can appear even earlier, and often, it can be diagnosed as early as 18 months. Research shows early intervention leads to positive outcomes later in life for people with autism, according to the CDC.

Students who qualify for services under the category of educational autism complete a series of evaluations, according to Pyle. These evaluations include IQ testing, achievement testing, a social history questionnaire and autism rating scales.

“The individualized education plan expects parents and schools to work together to develop a successful student,” Pyle explained. “Our school teams encourage parent support, involvement and most importantly communication with our staff. The parent is the first teacher of their child and students that have support from both the home and school environment have an opportunity to excel.”

In his State of the State address in January, Gov. Mike Parson advocated for a $1 million increase to ensure families and parents have access to the right resources and are equipped to deal with the challenges that come with caring for loved ones with autism.

“Autism is one of the fastest growing developmental disorders in the United States,” Parson in a press release on April 1, the beginning of Autism Awareness Month. “There are no cures today, but early diagnosis and intervention are a child’s best hope for reaching his or her full potential.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt recently spoke of the challenges and joys of living with a family member diagnosed with autism.

“My son Stephen was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and while it’s been challenging at times, he has been an incredible blessing to our family. Stephen has taught me a deeper sense of compassion and instilled in me the importance of defending and protecting the most vulnerable members of society, something that I’m able to do every single day as Attorney General,” Schmitt said in the release. “... It’s my hope that Autism Awareness Month will spark renewed faith among Missourians who care or advocate for children on the autism spectrum, lead to more innovative and unique treatments, and remind families that they aren’t alone in this journey.”

Pyle agrees that working to understand and help both those diagnosed and their families is vital to success.  

“A person with autism is just like you and I — a person with autism will have strengths and weaknesses just like you and I,” Pyle reflected. “Looking past their weaknesses and developing their strengths helps to become more comfortable in our ‘neurotypical’ world.

“They want to know that you care about them as a person and have their best interest at heart,” he continued. “A positive relationship can be obtained by the same methods you utilize to treat any friend. Display empathy and respect and most are happy to reciprocate.”

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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