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Autism Awareness event for children with Autism draws a crowd

Thursday, June 17, 2010436 views

A yearly class project in the school of education at Westminster College had far-reaching impacts for some students. Students enrolled in the class, "Autism: Awareness or Epidemic?" at Westminster hosted the third annual Family Fun Day for Children with Autism and Families as a final project.

"For a lot of the students, this project is really life changing," said Shamby Polychronis, Westminster School of Education assistant professor.

Sugar House resident Heather Hillam, who is majoring in Elementary and Early Education, participated in the fair. "It was a good experience," she said. "I've worked a lot with kids with disabilities. But this is my first time working with kids who have Autism. I'm going into the field of special needs and this fair helped me get a feel for what I'm going to be doing."

Hillam has enjoyed working with children who have disabilities ever since she was young. She feels the fair definitely helped strengthen her ability to work in the field of special needs, she said.

"This event was another block in what I'm trying to do with my life," Hillam said.

Twenty-five students were responsible for creating booths for children with Autism and their families that incorporated everything they'd learned during the semester. Booths included food that takes special dietary concerns into consideration as well as auditory, visual and sensory input activities appropriate for children with autism.

"It's a typical fair-like atmosphere with special considerations," Polychronis said. There were booths that had tie-dyed shirts, booths with finger painting, poster painting with sponges, fishing booths, a sandbox and a soccer room with members of the Westminster soccer team, where children could kick soccer balls. The attendance has grown each year the fair has been in place, according to Polychronis. She estimates that 50 children were in attendance this year, double the amount of the first year it was held.

"I think families appreciate a place they can go where they know their children are going to be understood," Polychronis said. "It's less about the considerations of the booths than about a community understanding children, being patient, being comfortable and accepting. Many families come year after year because they look forward to it."

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