Apr 21, 2021
Grant Wood AEA Consultants Promote Autism Understanding and Build Capacity
April is known as a variety of things in relation to Autism: Autism Awareness Month, Autism Appreciation Month, Autism Acceptance Month, etc. Grant Wood Area Education Agency’s autism consultants would like to recognize this month by encouraging educators, administrators, and students to move beyond ‘awareness’ and increase their understanding of autism.
The article,So, you want to Autism Level UP?, by developmental psychologists Dr. Amy Laurent and Dr. Jacquelyn Fede, helps highlight the advances and changes in recognizing and understanding the nuances related to changing the narrative about autism. Grant Wood AEA Autism Consultant Michelle Nuehring explains, “The conversation is about recognizing that people are at different levels related to their knowledge and understanding of autism. The challenge is to personally acknowledge where you are with your own level of understanding- awareness, acceptance, appreciation, empowerment, advocacy - and challenge yourself to take the next step.”
The agency’s autism team has been utilizing a peer-to-peer program in many of our districts to help students and educators ‘level up’ their own work in support of students with autism. This strategy is used to teach typically developing peers ways to interact with children and youth with autism spectrum disorders and other social difficulties. In this program, peers are systematically taught ways to promote independence and social interactions within their natural environments. Peers and targeted students to share their talents, interests, and strengths within the school culture.
“Who’s better to help a 4th grader than another 4th grader?” says Autism Consultant Michelle Sunner.
This program was developed by Maureen Ziegler, an autism interventionist and educational specialist from Michigan. Recently, Ziegler and the GWAEA Autism Team had led a training to develop peer-to-peer recruitment and program maintanence in area schools.
Regional Administrator and Autism Link Danielle Donnelly, commented on the program’s benefits, noting,“This program benefits the neurotypical peers too! Studies have shown that GPA increases for the peers involved, as they feel more connection to the classroom. Peers are friends and colleagues, NOT merely helpers.”
For more information on how you can support bringing the peer-to-peer program to your school, please contact the Autism Consultant assigned to your building.