Providence Elementary School (PES) introduced a new curriculum last week to help students understand classmates living with autism.
The curriculum, titled Understanding Friends, is designed to have students experience everyday tasks through the lens of autism.
Autism spectrum disorder and autism are general terms for a number of brain development disorders. According to Autism Speaks, a science and advocacy organization, over two million individuals living in the United States are affected with autism spectrum disorder.
Children with autism face a number of challenges in varying degrees, including social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors.
Using an interactive program with stations designed to help students see how difficult and frustrating tasks can be for a child with autism, the goal of the program is to foster empathy and understanding for those who might be teased and bullied.
"Providence is home to a fantastic center for autistic students, and we are long overdue for a program like this," said Principal Jesse Kraft. "I am so appreciative of our PTA leadership for making this happen. We constantly give examples and messages to our students about compassion and acceptance, but Understanding Friends has made the message much more powerful."
The PTA and PES staff partnered with George Mason University's Alpha Xi Delta sorority and hosted over 30 volunteers to help nearly 500 students. Materials for the stations were donated by the Home Depot of Fairfax.
"The PTA is very proud to work with Providence Elementary's wonderful staff and Alpha Xi Delta sorority to raise awareness of the challenges of living with autism," said MariAnn Seybold, PTA special education representative. "Our hope is to not only encourage empathy for kids with special needs, but to teach each child is special and unique and differences are worthy of appreciation."
"As the rate of diagnosis and our understanding of autism increases, it is vital for our community to see what life is like through the eyes of an autistic child," said Dr. Peter Noonan, superintendent of the City of Fairfax Schools. "We should all take pride in Providence Elementary's work to encourage understanding, empathy and compassion for others. These are some of the most important life skills for students we can support."