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Washington, PA: Autism school celebrates Autism Acceptance Month

April 30, 2023, Washington (PA) Observer-Reporter: School for autistic students marks Autism Acceptance Month

April is Autism Acceptance Month, and the staff at Penn Highlands Regional Center for Autism in Connellsville made it their mission to mark the month with a series of events to celebrate its students.

On Tuesday, students, many clad in tie-dye T-shirts (as part of theme week), spent some of their day jumping in a brightly colored bounce house.

Throughout theme week, they were treated to a Kona Ice truck, Eat ‘N Park cookies, wore their favorite sports team jerseys, and dressed up in wacky, mismatched clothes.

And on Friday, the kids from Learning Lamp Center at Highlands Hospital, a child-care center adjacent to the Center for Autism, visited for story time, where PHRCA student Isabella Dehnel read “The Rainbow Fish” before working on fish crafts.

“The students and staff had so much fun celebrating this month. We love being able to celebrate our students and their individuality,” said Rachael Conner, Director of Autism Services at the center.

The Center for Autism was established in 2010 to offer state-of-the-art educational and behavioral treatment to children with autism spectrum disorder in Southwestern Pennsylvania. The year-round program has grown from an initial enrollment of four students to 41 students from Washington, Fayette, and Westmoreland counties, and there is a growing waiting list.

“There definitely is a need. Autism rates are on the rise, and there are only a handful of schools for autism,” said Conner.

According to the most recent Centers for Disease Control report, released in March, 1 in 36 children has been identified with an autism spectrum disorder in the U.S., an increase from 1 in 44 children in 2018.

Fayette County has one of the highest rates of autism in the state.

Conner said there is room to expand at the school, which formerly was a Connellsville Area elementary school, but there is a lack of staffing.

“We’re not getting applicants for teachers and staff. Our goal is to open at least one more classroom, but staffing is our biggest problem,” said Conner….

ASD is a developmental disability. The cause of autism is unknown, but research shows there are genetic and environmental factors that play a role. The onset is usually before the age of 3….

John Andursky, president of Penn Highland Connellsville, said the hospital “is privileged to offer families in Southwestern Pennsylvania this exceptional autism school.”

“We are staffed by some of the best certified special education teachers in the region who are dedicated to meeting the needs of their students so every child can feel successful,” he said.

The cause of ASD remains a mystery, although it’s generally believed to result from both genetic and environmental factors. …

Until a cure is discovered, children with autism will always face challenges. But, said Conner, many master strategies to lead an accomplished life….


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