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Salem, OR: 15% increase in autism is something we have to learn to live with

Oct 12, 2018, Salem (OR) Weekly: Range of tools bolster students with autism As diagnoses of autism rise nationally, Salem-Keizer School District (SKSD) is responding with approaches and policies to help every child receive a successful education. The Center for Disease Control, which issues reports on autism biennially, identified a staggering 1 in 59 US children as having autism spectrum disorders in 2014. This is a 15% increase from 1 in 68 in 2012, and considerably higher than when the agency began tracking in 2000, when it determined 1 in 156 children had autism WRONG!!!!…., in truth……..these are the official increases in autism…. 1995: 1 in 500 2001: 1 in 250 2004: 1 in 166 2007: 1 in 150 2009: 1 in 110 2012: 1 in 88 2014: 1 in 68 Even if some children are misdiagnosed, its clear that SKSD, with 42,000 students and tasked with teaching so many with such diverse needs – must be proactive. Jennifer Rowan, an Autism Consultant for SKSD with years of experience working with students with communication and behavior needs, is enthused. “As a district,” she says, “when I think back 19 years, so many strategies teachers were just learning [to serve students with autism] are now common. It’s exciting to see that we’ve grown tremendously.”… Currently, 945 students qualify for school autism services in SKSD. … Bri Kim agrees. A Sumpter special ed teacher for four years, she employs a range of techniques to support the students in her classroom. To begin with, tranquil music is always playing. Lights are either turned off, or blue fabric is stretched across them to create a calmer environment. A private library is available, areas are provided for each child’s belongings and a smaller class size and teaching space help kids with autism can focus. Kim’s room also offers noise-canceling headphones “that can be used during fire drills or assemblies or simply in class,” she says…. An even quieter room is adjacent to Kim’s classroom so students who are overstimulated can learn how to return to a place where they are ready to learn again.

In fact, Owings says that starting last year, 2017-2018, all elementary schools in SKSD were provided with materials and equipment to create a ‘sensory room’ for all students to use when needed for sensory regulation. “These supports,” she says, “are used proactively before instruction, to either help alert or calm student so that they are ready for learning.” One of Kim’s students might choose to take a break in a quiet tent in the nearby sensory room, or might want a “blanket break” using a blanket with quilted squares filled with pellets that creates a soothing “hug.” Afterward, the student returns to the special ed classroom, ready again to tackle school subjects. … The combination of all these techniques – and many more – help students with autism in SKSD succeed. …

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