A Time for Understanding Autism

Published 10:14 am Monday, April 20, 2009

It is a disorder that experts say affects 3 to 6 of every 1,000 children in the United States: Autism. April is National Autism Month.

On Saturday, more than 30 people marched around the Ironton High School track field in an effort to raise awareness of the disorder. The Walk for Awareness was organized by the Necco Center, Lawrence County Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism group and the Kentucky-based I Believe Foundation.

Rock Hill Elementary is seeking funds to build what may be Lawrence County’s first Snoezelen room. The Snoezelen concept was developed 20 years ago by two Dutch therapists. The name Snoezelen is derived from two Dutch words, snuffelen, which means to explore and doezelen, which means to relax. Some aspects of the room are used to calm some children while other aspects are used to stimulate other kids.

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The room would have such features as a leaf chair that cradles the body and provides a gentle swinging motion, a mirrored rotating ball that reflects the colors of the rainbow, a solar projector to create a world of light and an interactive bubble tube. Some research shows children with severe disabilities have stopped self-abusive behavior and smile or speak for the first time after using this form of therapy.

Rock Hill Elementary School Assistant Principal Vickie Evans is spearheading the fundraising effort.

Evans said the room will benefit not only children with autism but also Down’s Syndrome, attention deficit disorder and emotional problems. Evans said as many as 50 students will use the room, not only from Rock Hill but from other districts who send their students to the Rock Hill handicapped unit.

“This enhances their opportunity to receive the best education possible and levels the playing field between them and the regular ed kids,” Evans said.

The initial cost of the room is roughly $40,000.

The Autism Project of Southern Ohio has donated $2,000 toward Rock Hill’s room.

Wendy Potts, president of the Autism Project of Southern Ohio, said the Rock Hill project is one of two Lawrence County endeavors her organization is funding. The Autism Project of Southern Ohio is allowing Dawson-Bryant Teacher Kyra Blankenship to attend a two-day seminar at the Louisville Autism Center in June.

“Schools are instrumental to their (an autistic child’s) outcome,” Potts explained. “The better their education the greater the chances for a better outcome.”