By Alex Haglund
Autism is a neuro-biological disorder. It affects the behavior of those who have it, and they are born with autism, it affects their brain, and they never outgrow it. Autism is “characterized by a difficulty in communicating and in forming relationships with others,” according to the Nashville Community High School autism awareness month video posted by NCHS Teacher and FBLA Leader Michelle Goostree.
The video was made to help bring awareness of autism and the challenges that autistic people face to both the school and the larger world around it. The video is just one part of a push for autism awareness at NCHS, which has also included the sale of NCHS Autism Awareness shirts, the Autism Speaks Puzzle on display in the school hallway, cookie sales, and a trivia night.
The fruit of all of the students’ and teachers’ labor was the donation of $1,089.10 from FBLA to Angels for Autism. Accepting the donation were Deb and Tom Storey (along with Braylin and Tucker Storey), parents of the late Traci Storey, of Nashville, who had planned to work with autistic children and who Angels for Autism is in memory of.
One of the big reasons for the big push behind Autism Awareness Month at NCHS is “the increasing number of students with autism at the school,” said teacher and special education coordinator Jen Maschhoff, who has worked with Goostree and the FBLA during Autism Awareness Month.
The video and autism awareness in general is especially important in order to “raise awareness for our students, so that when they encounter the kids in our hallways, they know how to react,” said Maschhoff. “Sometimes, they may not pick up on the social cues or the jokes that they are making, (and the video and education make it so other students) are aware that they are not ignoring the students.”
“And hopefully, when they are entering their adult worlds of work and college, they’ll have more understanding of people with autism or people with differences,” said Goostree.
Helping students be aware of their peers who have autism is important to Goostree personally as well as professionally, as her son, Jack, an NCHS freshman, was diagnosed with autism when he was 8 years old.
“As Jack gets older, one of my biggest fears is how he is going to be able to live in the adult world, that doesn’t necessarily have the patience or tolerance for individuals who are different,” Goostree says on the video.
Something both Goostree and Maschhoff are hoping to bring to the high school is increased programs for teens, as there is a lack of programs for teens and adults with autism.
Along with being a disorder characterized by issues with socialization and communication, autism can also include issues with sensory inputs and sensitivity to sound, light or feel. It is also important to understand that autism is a spectrum disorder– one that encompasses a wide range of issues and severities.
The sensory issues are something that Angels for Autism has helped with, bringing the “Sensory Room” to Nashville Primary School and other area grade schools. Maschhoff said that she was hoping to be able to have assistance from Angels for Autism in bringing more programs to NCHS.
Along with being aware of autism and individuals with autism, there is another simple thing people can do that will help. “If you notice somebody struggling, don’t just turn away from them, ask if you can help,” said Goostree. “They may not accept your help, but the simplest acts of kindness, whether it’s a person with a disability or not, can make all the difference in the world.”
To watch the NCHS Autism Awareness video, head to https://youtu.be/U7d6jVnFQEM.
Along with the descriptions in the NCHS video, another informative talk about autism, from the perspective of someone with autism, can be found in this (much longer) video of Animal Science Professor Temple Grandin: https://youtu.be/2wt1IY3ffoU.