Teaching to Kids with Autism

By WBNG News

October 8, 2010 Updated Oct 8, 2010 at 5:21 PM EST

Apalachin, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Children with autism don't have to limit their education, or their dreams. A college student with autism met with teachers in the Owego-Apalachin School District to explain how they can adjust to the needs of students with the disorder.

Action News reporter Matt Markham tells us, the teachers were the ones learning today.

Jamie Burke is a senior at Syracuse University. He has big plans for his life, "perhaps to be a writer of books," Smith said.

Jamie has autism. He couldn't speak until he was 12 years old. His school had to make accommodations to connect with him in the classroom.

Jamie and his mother now visit schools to get educators to do the same.

"I think often times, we get autistic students and we really don't know what to do with them because we don't understand their disability," said Joe DiCosmo, principal of Apalachin Elementary School.

Jamie uses a keyboard to help him figure out the right words. A sentence takes a little longer to form, but his mind is moving fast.

"As educators, it is our job to think outside the box and to not change who they are, and how they learn, but rather who we are, and how we teach," said Stephanie Wieckhorst, a first grade inclusion teacher at Owego Elementary School.

Sheree, Jamie's mom, says toning down busy colors in a room, giving him more time to answer questions, and seating in the classroom all affected his performance.

"Suspension of those old rules that when we went, you can't chew gum, you can't get out of your seat, you can't move. That's a death nail to someone with autism," Burke said.

"Some of the placements that they have in the classroom, you know if I see a student is really struggling ... to open up more of the areas of the room," Wieckhorst said.

The point of the presentation was to show that while autistic children might require special needs, they still must be included in the average educational process.

"When we talk to a person like Jamie, he can let us know what's really inside of him and how we can help get what's inside of him out to be a productive student," DiCosmo said.

Sheree and Jamie are from Syracuse and will continue speaking to other groups of teachers. Later this month, they're headed to Vermont to make a similar presentation to educators.