Blue with support: Students learn to value uniqueness on World Autism Awareness Day

CAFCA | May 03, 2016 |


 It was a blue day at Head Start’s Lake Avenue unit Wednesday as the staff and students observed World Autism Awareness Day by participating in the “Light It Up Blue” campaign.

The staff wore blue T-shirts and painted blue streaks in their hair, and the 3- and 4-year-olds participated in a variety of blue-themed activities, like finger painting and playing with blue stickers.

They also had story time with the book “My Friend Has Autism,” by Amanda Doering Touring, illustrated by Kristin Sorra.

It was all designed to “highlight the idea that it takes many unique and different people to make the puzzle complete,” explained Nancy Pappas, director of external affairs for Community Renewal Team (CRT), which runs the Head Start preschool program in central Connecticut.

Head Start locally has 40 preschoolers enrolled at its Lake Avenue unit and another 34 at its South Street unit.

The “Blue” campaign began in Australia to raise awareness of autism and has spread around the world, said Pappas.

Valerie Pelletier, Lake Avenue unit manager, came up with the idea for her unit. “I have a son with autism, so it means a lot to me to have our program do this,” she said.

 “We have tons of blue activities going on,” she said. “We have been reading stories throughout the week about autism and other disabilities and that it is OK just being different in general.”

One boy in the unit has autism and the other kids know that he is very sensitive to sound, Pappas said. “They all know that sometimes people with autism also don’t like to be hugged. Actually I’m thinking sometimes kids of every type don’t like to be hugged. So they’re talking about how it’s important to ask somebody first ‘do you want to be hugged?’”

“Children do pick up on things naturally when someone is different, so basically we’re trying to just say everybody is different in some way, whether you are typical functioning or not, and that’s OK. It’s nothing to point out or make fun of,” Pelletier said.

Pappas said Head Start is mandated by the federal government to have at least 10 percent special needs children in its enrollment, and to accept every child who can physically be accommodated, even if they are not low income.

“As long as the doctor treating a child feels that a non-medical person can be trained to assist with their needs, like catheterizations or tracheal tubes, we can take them,” she said.

“Sometimes parents who are not low income have tried a couple of other preschools which either won’t enroll their children or enrolled them and it doesn’t work out. We have an ‘everyone accepted, no expulsions’ policy, so if there is any way for us to accept the child we will,” Pappas added.

“We all know someone who moves or learns differently than we do,” said Emilie Montgomery, director of CRT’s Early Care and Education programs. “We should help children to honor and value these differences.”

CRT’s Early Care and Education Program, which took over Head Start locally almost a year ago, provides stimulating, developmentally-appropriate education for preschool children and nurturing care for infants and toddlers in licensed centers located in Bristol, Clinton, East Hartford, Hartford, Middletown, Portland and Windsor, according to the CRT web site.

Centers are accredited by NAEYC, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, and use research-based curricula that meet the Connecticut Department of Education’s frameworks.

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