Camelot Education’s Northwest Center For Autism Continues Annual “Light It Up Blue” Autism Awareness Day Even During Time of Distance Learning
Even in these trying times, it is important to recognize the needs of students with special needs, including recognizing April 2 as World Autism Awareness Day. It is a time when the whole world comes together to create more understanding and acceptance of autism, not just for one day but for the entire month. However, since the coronavirus pandemic has forced the shutdown of most urban school systems, educators across the nation are looking for innovative ways to help their students stay engaged and connected to their teachers and for special needs children, this is even more important.
Niamh Welp, the principal at Camelot Education’s Northwest Center for Autism (NWCA) has created an iMovie along with over 90 staff members called “Light It Up Blue 4/2”. The purpose is to not only bring awareness to autism but to show the NWCA students that they are being thought of, that they are loved and their teachers miss them greatly.
“We do a Light It Up Blue event every year at all seven of our therapeutic day schools in Illinois to bring attention to autism awareness and acceptance,” Welp said. “We’ve done it many different ways, from having teachers and staff wear blue t-shirts to stringing up blue lights around the school. “Of course, with the current situation we can’t have a public event at the school but we knew we had to do something for our students and doing an iMovie seemed the best way to go. We want them to know we miss them but also support them during this crisis. Setting aside an entire month brings an extra focus.”
Welp said the iMovie is a montage of pictures of the staff members and teachers – all wearing blue. Some are holding their pets, others with signs and messages. All to let their students have a sense of being anchored and tethered to the people they see at the school every day. The iMovie was presented electronically on April 2nd and distributed via email.
“We thought it was essential at this time for them to be reminded of how important they are to us,” she said.
NWCA has been serving children on the autism spectrum since 1999. In 2018, the school moved from its former location in DeKalb, IL, taking advantage of a larger vacant school building, the former Davenport Elementary School, in Genoa, IL. NWCA is a therapeutic day school that provides academic and therapeutic services for children, adolescents and young adults, ages 3 through 21 with extraordinary needs including autism, multiple disabilities, emotional disabilities, and other health impairments.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. Intervention occurs earlier than it once did. That means more services when the child is young. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 1 in 54 children in the United States are diagnosed with the disorder.
“Autism is a wide-ranging spectrum, it affects different people in different ways,” Welp said. “It can impair social and verbal skills. Some have really good memories. Each student is unique in his or her own way. Our mission is to meet every student’s specific needs with an individual approach to their learning and we develop specific programs to meet each student’s special needs.”
At Camelot Education, the path to learning starts with getting to know its students and their unique needs. Relationships are the bedrock of each Camelot Education school. Because Camelot Education cares to build strong relationships and connections, students feel safe, welcomed, supported and eager to learn, and they can begin to actualize their potential, both academically, socially, and emotionally.
NWCA teacher Molly Jasper has been with Camelot for two years and she was excited to participate in the iMovie. According to Jasper, the school’s culture of mutual support of staff members and students differentiates itself from other schools where she has taught. She also said the “Light It Up Blue 4/2” iMovie was an innovative way for the teachers and staff to reach out and stay connected to the students and the students to their teachers.
“That’s what we do here and that’s why I am proud to be part of the NWCA team,” Jasper said. “As a classroom teacher, I’m paired with several other therapists and paraprofessionals. We are always sharing our insight on how to best serve our students; everyone has something to share. I thought doing the iMovie was a great way to show our students that even though they’re not with us physically, they’re in our thoughts.”
Camelot Education always recognizes the importance of celebrating special awareness months and moments. Even in the current virtual world of connecting everyone at all times, it is even more necessary than ever to share these positive connections with all students and staff.
Jasper continued, “We’re working on ways not to just continue their education during this crisis but it’s a reminder of their importance to us.”