Around the UFT

World Autism Awareness Day at PS 396, Brooklyn

Deja ‘blue’

Miller Photography

Speech-language pathologist Giezel S. Diwa polishes a student’s nails as (from left) UFT District 75 Representative Walter O’Leary, Chapter Leader Bill Gliem and Special Representative Reginald Colvin look on. More photos >>

Miller Photography

Paraprofessionals — and sisters — Denish Jackson (right) of PS 396 and Mary Peay of next-door neighbor PS 327 usher a student to the event.

Miller Photography

Teachers like Shavon Paul staff tables to sell items to help raise funds.

For the second year in a row, students and staff at PS 396 in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn participated in World Autism Awareness Day on April 2.

The theme for the day was “Light It Up Blue” — blue is the color for autism — and the teachers and kids at the District 75 school took it to heart: They had blue nail polish, blue makeup and blue clothing. One teacher, Shavon Paul, even turned her house blue.

Paul, an early childhood teacher for students with autism, explained that the disorder is an important subject at the ungraded elementary school, where some children are autistic and all have special needs. That’s why she and colleague Barbara Horowitz worked with a group of other teachers and teachers’ assistants to introduce observation of World Autism Awareness Day last year.

“Autism touches a lot of families,” Horowitz said. “We have so many kids with different needs here, and Autism Awareness Day is a way for the kids to learn that everyone is different, but we’re all the same.”

The school’s off-site location, housed inside Crown Heights’ PS 289, held its own observation of World Autism Awareness Day on April 5.

In addition to festooning themselves in blue, each class contributed an exhibit displayed outside their classroom door on what autism means to them.

One class had created blue puzzle pieces — the symbol for autism — to show that the cause of the disorder is a puzzle; another put on display a lightbulb with a blue string inside it to convey that youngsters with autism “think differently.” Still others wrote stories or drew pictures about autism, using blue.

Dana Middleton, the school’s family worker, who has a child on the autism spectrum, loved the event.

“It was a day for the kids to shine, for them to show everybody even though I think differently, I’m still here,” she said. “For staff, it was an opportunity to show their support and say, in a special way, ‘We love working with you.’”

Read more: Around the UFT
Related topics: special ed
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