Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Massachusetts school district approves new curriculum to aid autistic kids in dealing with adolescence

From The Republican in Mass.:

HOLYOKE, Mass. - The School Committee has approved curriculum changes to help autistic students deal with puberty.

Parental consent will be obtained before the program is used with any student, officials said during Monday's committee meeting.

The district of about 5,900 students includes 140 with autism, including 10 adolescents, Assistant Superintendent Kim Wells said.

Officials said students will get one-on-one teaching about physical changes and understanding their bodies; emotional changes; hygiene, as it relates to hormonal changes regarding deodorant, shaving, acne and keeping clean; the need to respect personal space; good ways vs. bad ways of touching others; masturbation; menstruation; rules about public vs. private behavior; and concerns about strangers.

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior, according to the web site of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, ninds.nih.gov.

Children with autism may avoid eye contact and have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking and feeling because they are unable to understand social cues such as tone of voice or facial expressions, the web site said.

The School Committee approved the curriculum change by voice voice with no discernible objections, in the meeting at Dean Technical High School.

Committee Vice Chairman William R. Collamore had said he would vote against the curriculum change because he wanted it sent to committee for more discussion.

But committee members such as Devin M. Sheehan and Dennis W. Birks Jr. said the new curriculum was needed immediately to help autistic children deal with the changes in their lives.

School administrators wouldn't have brought the curriculum to the School Committee without a thorough study, Sheehan said.

"They need this," Sheehan said.

"This definitely needs to be voted on tonight," Birks said.

A safeguard is that permission slips will be sent to parents and guardians whose approval must be obtained before autistic students will get the new curriculum, committee member Howard B. Greaney Jr. said.

Also, lack of such a curriculum to help autistic students deal with bodily changes exposes the city to legal problems if violations occur, Superintendent David L. Dupont said.