Raising awareness about autism

April 10, 2019

BULLHEAD CITY — At last week’s Bullhead City Council meeting, Mayor Tom Brady read a proclamation declaring April as Autism Awareness Month.

Autism spectrum disorde usually appears in early childhood and affects “a person’s ability to communicate, and interact with others,” according to the Autism Society. “ASD is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a ‘spectrum condition’ that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees.”

Brady presented the declaration to Geoff Tubbs, a director of special services for Colorado River Schools.

One of the department directors is out on leave so Tubbs is overseeing all of the operations, according to the district. His office is at Coyote Canyon Elementary School.

In the Bullhead City Elementary School District, about 75 of the 400 children in special education receive services for autism. In the Colorado River Union High School District, 27 of the 220 special education students are receiving such services, Tubbs said.

“Autism can look very different, depending on the child,” Tubbs explained. “Some kids function just fine.”

Those children grow up to become adults who finish their educations and lead lives with some fulfillment — without or with minimal professional intervention. But that isn’t always the case.

Some ASD students might have more than one challenge that affects their ability to learn and require additional time to complete their K-12 studies.

Tubbs said that occupational therapy can be effective in helping these and other students in special education with improving their behavior, social interaction and classroom experiences. A therapist will study the reactions and help find alternatives.

It provides students with coping mechanisms that can replace stimming. This is the hand-flapping, rocking, spinning, or repetition of words and phrases that many autistic people do to calm themselves when they become overemotional or overexcited. For some, it can occur with such frequency that it hampers their ability to interact with others, be involved in activities in classrooms, at social gatherings and do a job. It can make it hard for others around them to focus on their own activities.

“These folks think pretty much the way they do,” Tubbs said. “But occupational therapy teaches them to manage it more appropriately.”

The idea is to replace the big reactions with smaller forms of release. Sometimes, there is a need for someone with autism to take frequent breaks because sensory overload affects their ability to concentrate. Or they can work toward being able to squeeze a ball instead of flapping their arms.

If they have trouble being around loud noises, they can put on headphones and listen to music so the noise is drowned out with something more pleasant.

Or, said Tubbs, if a student doesn’t like being touched by others they can “simply say ‘Please don’t touch me’ instead of pulling away.”

The goal of special services is to allow as many of the students in the program as possible to attain independence and, perhaps, even obtain employment.

“Only about 25 percent of these students go on to be employed,” Tubbs said. “And that’s an improvement.”

Some local businesses allow youths in CRUHSD’s special services program to obtain work experience, such as Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, Del Taco and Praise Chapel, which runs the Food for Families food bank. Tubbs said he is interested in widening the types of work offerings by partnering with different businesses for work experience training.

Autism is a unique situation for each person who has it because it manifests itself in individual ways. And each person also has unique talents and abilities, Tubbs emphasized.

The Autism Society awareness ribbon is composed of brightly colored puzzle pieces that “represent the diversity of people and families living with the condition.

The goal of special services educators is to help these students “keep pushing those boundaries so they aren’t limited to stereotypical jobs,” Tubbs said.

And, even more importantly, to be able to live the best possible lives.

The Autism Society notes that early identification can result in improved lives through treatment and training.

Signs include:

Lack of or delay in spoken language;Repetitive use of language and motor mannerisms — sometimes one or the other — such as hand-flapping or twirling of objects;Minimal or no eye contact with others;No interest in peer relationships;Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play;Persistent fixation on parts of objects;

For details about autism, go to www.autism-society.org.