Walking towards Westwood High School in the chilly morning, many students run to the door. It is below freezing outside and students’ breaths can be seen like fog in the air. Inside the warm building, something is different: the front windows of the library are covered in small cut outs of blue and white stick-figures.
This display was created by special education teachers Jessica Pugliesi, Breanna McGee, and Julie Kilroy. They wanted to raise recognition for Autism Awareness Week, which was the last week of March.
According to Pugliesi, “The whole goal for Autism Awareness Week was to really give WHS a visual. So we were hoping that by having students walk in and see cut outs of what represents the student body. So there’s about 1,008 students, so we put up around 1,020 boys and girls and having them see that about according to the ratio 1 in 68, there would be about 15 who would be diagnosed with Autism.”
Pugliesi was seated at a table in room A113, a colorful room dedicated to students who require additional support. The bright room was covered with arts and crafts to make it enjoyable and fun for the students. She sat with two students and another teacher. Both students were doing their work, while the teachers were observing them.
Pugliesi smiled as she helped an autistic student working on a worksheet. She portrayed excitement as her student answered correctly, making her student proud and confident.
Senior Gabby Synk loved the idea about this project and thought it was great how WHS can be a part of this awareness. Synk has an older sister who has Velocardiofacial Syndrome, which hinders her learning abilities, has eating and speech problems, heart defects, and a different facial appearance.
Synk also mentioned, “Some people think that there is not enough advocation for certain things. Like my sister who has a disability, not specifically autism but does have a disability, feels like there’s not enough out there showing her disability and what she struggles with. Like that can cause people to not understand who she is and cause a lot of frustration towards her.”
Synk happily stated that this project “will open people’s eyes and help them understand first hand on experiences rather than just seeing it and hearing about it.”
Synk also claimed, “I think students should just really understand where people are coming from when they have it and really look into it and understand. I don’t think people understand that many people grow up with this and struggle with it and it can affect daily lives.”
There are multiple ways to help with this awareness. Ms. Pugliesi stated, “Students can help by first off being aware and just accepting and understand that these individuals are just like you and I. They have the same thoughts, feelings, and emotion, and treat them with respect that you would want in return.”
According to www.autism-society.org, “More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder.” In addition, the site claims that it costs more than $8,600 extra per year to educate a student with autism.