The school's Autism Awareness Week will include activities like having autistic students participate in the morning announcements, special education teachers read to students about autism, a school-wide balloon release and selling autism awareness bracelets.
"I think the more aware everyone is [about autism], the better off the students will be," Principal Amy Heater said. "I think it's important we know how to support them in every aspect, whether it be school or outside of school."
Kerry Howard takes a key role in her daughter Ainsley Howard's third-grade education. Ainsley has been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, which Howard said equates to Asperger Syndrome -- considered to be on the higher functioning end of autism.
"[Ainsley] is a little bit quirky, but I'm quirky too," Howard said.
She explained with Ainsley, there's nothing different about her from any other children besides some of her traits such as difficulty with eye contact, social situations and having a focus on repetition. Another one of Ainsley's traits is a love for reading.
"Basically, I'm a mom and I do what I need to do, just like any other mom," Howard said. "White Elementary has been really great. They've just been really good about trying to get the school aware and the teachers on board on how to teach our students because [autistic] students are not much different from other children, you just have to find what works best for them."
For example, Ainsley's incentive for working through last week's Criterion Referenced Competency Tests was being rewarded with an opportunity to read after completing her tests.
"I just do what facilitates her to be the best she can be," Howard said.
Ainsley and other students with autism aren't separated from other students in her grade, but she does get special intervention from her speech therapist, Joy Brown.
Principal Amy Heater said Ainsley's favorite activity ties in with an opportunity for the rest of WHS' students to learn more about students with autism.
"Every month we have a 'Principal's Book of the Month.' Next year we're going to be doing a school-wide [teacher book study] with 'Just Give Him the Whale!,' by Paula Kluth and Patrick Schwarz, and it's 20 ways to use fascinations, areas of expertise and strengths to support students with autism," Howard said, adding this month students will be reading a book titled, 'Pedro's Whale,' by the same authors. "Pedro is a little boy who is autistic and it goes through and highlights some things about Pedro and what makes Pedro different.
"He loves whales more than anything and he's told on the first day of school to put away his favorite toy, which is a whale, but in reality the teacher finds out that is a huge, huge secret to helping him do his best every day, that if you just give him his whale, he'll accomplish anything that you ask him to. Basically, you have to find what works for each student to be the best they can be."
One method WES uses to help students like Ainsley become better acclimated with social situations is through the creation of the "lunch bunch" program, which started last year.
"They do [lunch bunch] every Wednesday and it's usually a little group of girls, sometimes one little boy, they socialize, they laugh, they joke, and it's just learning social skills," Howard said.
The weekly social time has proven successful for Ainsley.
"[Ainsley] has made a lot of new friends [and] she has lots of play dates," Howard said.
She said when addressing any childhood disability, early intervention is crucial.
"For my little girl, we started out at [Montessori Children's World], we went to pediatricians' offices and they said things like, 'Oh, she's immature, she needs to do this, she needs to do that.'" If you feel as mom or dad, you're going to know," Howard said. "If something is not quite right with your child, if they don't have eye contact, if they're not doing the same things as other children, you need to keep having that investigated, and that's why I did -- I got on the computer to find out what was wrong with my child and I'm the one who discovered she had autism and then I found the specialist who was able to say, 'Yes, this is what she has.'"
She said it was important for parents to be advocates for their children.
"Be aggressive in finding the right things you need to do because you do have a small window of opportunity to try and get your child out of the 'twilight zone' -- the little thing they get into," Howard said. "They really get into their own mind, their own world and diet, and early intervention was what really helped me with our child."
She said, for example, learning to eliminate dairy and gluten from Ainsley's diet has helped with her condition.
"I was able to see my child again and that's the big thing," Howard said.
For more information about Bartow County support systems for students with autism, contact the central office at 770-606-5800 or visit www.autisminbartow.com