CRANBERRY TWP — Students at Haine elementary and middle schools heard presentations about people with disabilities, with a focus on autism, at a series of assemblies on Tuesday.
Representatives of The Children's Institute, Judith Parker and Bruce Adamson, spoke about how people with autism and other disabilities may look different but want to be treated the same as everyone else.
Adamson explained that people with autism in particular aren't faced with a disability so much as simply having brains that work differently.
“Someone with autism can be very smart,” Adamson said during his portion of the presentation.
For instance, he said, the part of the brain that recognizes social cues such as someone being interested in a conversation or not isn't “firing” properly.
Adamson proposed to students, “Is he weird?” about a hypothetical boy with autism.
“He's not weird — he has a disability,” Adamson said.
Sixth grade students Michael DiBucci, Aubrey Erdos, Christina Lin, Alana Zigrossi and Charlie Borland agreed that the biggest message they heard in the assembly was to treat everyone fairly.
“If they're doing something different, you shouldn't call it 'weird,'” Charlie explained.
Aubrey said the biggest thing she learned from the presentation was about the word “stimming,” which is classified as “repetitive body movements or repetitive movement of objects.”
Parker explained that a wide range of behaviors can fall into this category — such as twitching, tapping or flailing — and it can be triggered by emotions ranging from discomfort to excitement, anxiety, upset or something else entirely.
Aubrey said she'd seen people stimming before, but she had never known what it was until the assembly.
“Now I know more about it,” she said.
“I didn't know how hard it was to control,” Christina agreed.
A larger portion of Parker's portion of the presentation focused on people with disabilities and encouraged students to look at how they do or don't treat those people differently.
Being inclusive, Parker said, means asking the person with a disability what would make him or her most comfortable and otherwise just including that person in most cases, she said.
Parker encouraged students to be open-minded and friendly in different ways — such as saying hello instead of just smiling — to accommodate different autism symptoms and how actions can be perceived differently in others' brains.
Parker said the purpose of their assemblies is to educate students about autism and other physical disabilities.
“The more kids know about disabilities, the more they are likely to treat them the same and make friends with them,” Parker said. “Even though we might appear very different on the outside, we are all the same on the inside.”
Parker and Adamson offer different presentations for different grade levels, including a puppet show for elementary pupils that features puppets with disabilities. The programs are free through funding from the state Department of Education.
To learn more about what Parker and Adamson do, visit www.amazingkids.org.