Ginger Johnston: April is the month for autism awareness | SteamboatToday.com

Ginger Johnston: April is the month for autism awareness

April has always represented new beginnings in my life. It is the time of Easter, spring and the birthdays of both of my sons. In addition, April is the month for autism awareness and it was in my oldest son's third year, following his diagnosis, when I knew that I would be closely affected by this human condition for the remainder of my life.

My husband's line of work made it necessary for us to move a number of times and Steamboat Springs School District is, therefore, the fourth district my son has attended since beginning elementary.

Being an advocate for my son and his education became another full-time job for me during these years. One of the lowest points in our experiences occurred in second grade when I was summoned into the principal's office and told that a parent volunteer in the lunchroom had become fed up with his inability to sit still and had proceeded to dump a thermos of water overtop of his head. My primary concern, after hearing of this incident, was how this parent's behavior could have been viewed as acceptable by the children who saw it simply because the action, after all, was performed by an adult.

One of the highest points of our educational experiences, alternatively, was when the behavioral therapist with Yampa Valley Autism Program talked to me about introducing a program into my son's fifth-grade classroom. The program involved facilitating student interviews in his class between him and his peers.

In these sessions, he would not only learn appropriate ways to interact with his peers, he would learn about them, their interests and, in turn, they could learn more about him. Although he loves being with his peers and considers each one of them to be a friend, he does not engage in spontaneous conversations that come quite naturally to other children. This is a skill that, for him, must be taught.

Although adult support has varied in every school he has attended, I have always been impressed by the level of acceptance his peers exhibited and continue to display toward him. Our experiences are not isolated phenomenons. Kids, these days, are kinder. They are more exposed to children who are different.

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It is, however, the acceptance demonstrated by teachers, paras, parents and administrators that make the most lasting impression in our children's lives. Time after time we are beyond impressed by not only the acceptance but the appreciation members of this community have for our son.

Since the beginning of the student interview program, his teachers and specialists have noticed significant improvement in his ability to interact with his classmates and his self-confidence has grown as a result. This is only one of the many programs the Yampa Valley Autism Program has in place to allow for a growing awareness of autism in our community. It is programs like these that give me hope not only for his future, but confidence in the young society being created here in our town.

Ginger Johnston

Steamboat Springs