On a cool, windy morning on the track at Fivay High School, dozens gathered to attend the school’s inaugural Autism Awareness March to raise funds for students.
Patty Linard, who teaches students with autism at Fivay, coordinated the event to raise money that will benefit her own students. The proceeds will go to classroom communication devices or educational field trips.
“I think it’s a wonderful way to bring awareness to the community and fund the autism program,” said Connie Kersey, whose son Justin is one of Linard’s students.
Justin Kersey, 17, is a junior but his mother said caring for him is more like caring for a much younger child. Justin has autism, a developmental disorder that appears in the first three years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.
“It has been challenging,” Connie said. “It’s like having a child that you still have to supervise, like having three kids when you only have two.”
Connie has another son, 15-year-old Jordan, who is not autistic.
Participants were able to register for the march for $10 and received a T-shirt and tickets for a drawing that included prizes from various local sponsors like restaurants, nail salons and more.
Linard’s students also baked dog treats, which they sell year round to benefit their program.
“It’s called a school-based enterprise,” Linard said. “They do the baking and it teaches them to follow recipes, handle money and write out deposit slips.”
Fivay’s autism program has 23 students in its self-contained units with specialized teachers and care. About a dozen more students, those with more moderate forms of autism, are in traditional classrooms.
“Our kids are difficult sometimes,” Linard said. “We get hit, bit, scratched. But we keep coming back because our hearts are in it.
“Every day I see a miracle, even if it’s small, like a student who says hello without being prompted, or one who hasn’t been aggressive in 18 months, or who stays in the classroom instead of running away when becoming frustrated.”
Falcon Friends is a student club at Fivay whose members spend their lunch time with Linard’s students to mentor and socialize with them. Ashleigh Gardner, 17 and a senior, has been a member for three years.
“They’re our best friends,” Ashleigh said. “They’re no different than anybody else.”
After the march, students, parents, teachers and supporters headed to the concession stand for hotdogs and snow cones, then to claim their certificates and gift cards from the prize drawing.