Wednesday, Oct 22, 2014
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Longleaf Elementary holds Autism Walk

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Hundreds of students, parents, teachers and faculty turned out for Longleaf Elementary school’s first autism walk to raise funds for a multisensory room at the school.

“Autistic children need as much sensory input as possible,” said Janice Whitaker, a speech pathologist at the school. “A multisensory room creates a stimulating, yet calming, atmosphere.”

A multisensory room is a special room designed to develop a child’s senses, usually through special lighting, music, and objects. It will be used as a therapy for children in the autism program with limited communication skills, behavioral issues and sensory deficits, as well as for students who need a calm environment to de-stress.

Longleaf assistant Principal Debbie Wichmanowski is a member of the national Council for Exceptional Children and on the board of their Division of Autism and Developmental Disabilities.

She got the idea for a multisensory room from a national conference she attended where vendors sell equipment for multisensory rooms like color-changing bubble tubes, therapy balls and seclusion furniture.

“The multisensory room isn’t just for autistic students,” Wichmanowski said. “Other kids who have meltdowns, sensory issues or ADHD can use it. Heck, we might even have an adult or two.”

The walk itself happened along the bus loop. For every quarter-mile people completed, they were given a sticker. Popcorn, cupcakes and other goodies like puzzle piece jewelry, the autism symbol, were sold to help raise funds.

The event also served to highlight an important support group for parents, Helping Hands. The group meets the second Wednesday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Medical center of Trinity and provides support and resources for parents with children with autism or other neurological disorders.

Jonica Chittum, the group’s founder, has a 9-year-old son with autism. She said other parents have been more of a help to her than even doctors.

“It’s so hard when you first start,” Chittum said. “I got the best help from other parents so I’m never too busy to help other parents. That’s what got me through the first two years.”

Chittum said she’s thrilled to see how much teachers and administration at Longleaf care for students with disabilities. A multisensory room is not normally something you’d see at a public school, she said.

“This is really thinking outside of the box,” Chittum said.

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