Sunday, June 3, 2012

Signing students help autistic, non-verbal peers

Students crammed the hallways as they skimmed notes and rushed to class at the hectic start of McAllen High School’s exam week last Friday.
While some of her peers hefted large final projects to class, sophomore Emily Zepeda carried a bag full of doughnuts to her “special friends,” who greeted her with large smiles on their last day of the year together.
“I hear other kids say they look weird or ask why they don’t talk,” the 16-year-old said of the special education students. “When I was in middle school, I was picked on, (so) I do all I can to help them.
“If they don’t talk or they make noises, it doesn’t mean we have to treat them less than normal.”
For the past year, Zepeda has brought that belief to the SPED classroom once a week as part of a voluntary project that McHi’s American Sign Language students began in 2010.
With each visit, the ASL students help their non-verbal and autistic peers learn new signs, teaching them how to finally express themselves and communicate with each other, teachers and their families.
And the teenagers have committed themselves to expanding the program to many more campuses throughout the district and Rio Grande Valley, hoping especially to change the lives of students with autism, a development disorder characterized by difficulty communicating or interacting.
“It makes our students in this very large high school feel very important,” said Pam Honeycutt, the SPED teacher who with ASL instructor Chris Ardis organized the student-to-student tutoring sessions.
Read more of  Neal Morton's The Monitor article HERE.
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