April brings autism awareness to West


The puzzle pieces that can be sold to students and staff for $1. The profits from the fundraiser go to the Unit 5 Educational Foundation to help the Special Education programs across the district. Photo by Ariana South

Ariana South, Staff Reporter

The month of April usually drags on with nearly constant cloudy skies and mud from the last rainfall, however, for advocates of Autism, April is a month to celebrate differences.

Autism Spectrum Disorder, more commonly known as autism, affects 1.7% of the population in the United States, according to CBS News. The disorder is seen as a spectrum because of its wide variations in types, experiences, and severity of symptoms.

In the 1943, the first official diagnosis of autism was reported, and was thought to be the result of poor parenting and isolation. Since then, that state of thought has been disproven by thousands of brain and developmental studies in children and adults. While no single cause has been determined, ways of identifying the disorder earlier on in one’s life have been.

At West, there is a special education program that helps kids with disorders such as autism get the life skills and education they need.

“Working with students with autism is so much fun,” says special education teacher Mrs. Beggs. “Just like any student, we have our ups and downs. It is really important to get to know each student so you can learn what they need to succeed.”

Some students, like senior Nico Rhodes, have siblings in the program.

“Chaz loves his teachers,” says Rhodes. “When I drop him off in his classroom each morning, he gets really happy to see both his friends and teachers there.”

However, not all special needs students can make friends as easy as Chaz.

“I have some students who love meeting new people, while others need more time to warm up to them,” says Beggs. “Some of the students do not want to work with new people, and are very specific about who they want around. I’m lucky enough to work with the same students each year so we get to know each other really well.”

Starting this April, Mrs. Wollenweber along with other special education teachers, has started a sale of paper puzzle pieces students can purchase for one dollar at lunch or in the main office to support the Unit 5 Educational Foundation in the memory of former Unit 5 student, Jon Miskulin.

Miskulin was diagnosed with Asperger’s, which is a part of the autism spectrum. His family worked with Unit 5, and now works with H.E.A.L Foundation to spread Jon’s story to further autism acceptance in communities.

“I helped start the fundraiser to help give more money to the kids,” says Wollenweber. “The program throughout the district has been a little low in the recent years, to have donations would help get some extra funds in. Plus, it gives recognition to an alumni that has had success through the program.”

Wollenweber also hopes the district will continue the puzzle piece sales each April to continue to bring awareness to both the special needs program and the autistic spectrum.