Autism affects one in 94 people in Canada.
At Westgate Collegiate and Vocational Institute, the ration jumps to one in 42. The south-side school is leading the way in special needs student education, with more than 20 students attending classes.
On Wednesday several of the students and their teachers reached out to the rest of the school through a lunch-hour gathering in the main hallway, selling popcorn to raise money for Autism Ontario’s Thunder Bay chapter.
The event was a also a chance for other students to learn a little more about the disease, a neurobiological disorder that impairs a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others.
David Workman, a special needs teacher at Westgate, said International Awareness for Autism Day made for a perfect setting to get the message across.
“Teaching autistic students has come a long way over the course of the last few years. Students with autism require a little bit different preparations to their program,” Workman said.
Autism spectrum disorders, which encompass a number of different disorders, are generally diagnosed by the time a child turns three.
Parents usually are the first to notice, realizing their child hasn’t hit certain developmental milestones or has seemed different than other children since birth.
Doctors don’t always acknowledge the symptoms right away, often advising a wait-and-see approach. But according to information supplied in support of World Autism Awareness Day, parental instincts are usually correct.
The group advises parents not to wait if concerns arise and asking their family doctor to have their child screened for autism.
“Although parents may have concerns about labelling a toddler as autistic, the earlier a diagnosis is made, the earlier interventions,” the pamphlet reads.
“Currently, there are no effective means to prevent autism, no single effective treatment and no known cure.”
However, early intervention has proven to lead to higher IQ and language ability, especially when behavioural intervention is started immediately.
Students and staff also showed support at Westgate wearing red, at the request of Autism Ontario.
Jimmy Ulakovic was born with autism and said he was glad to help out.
“I got to raise money and I get to give it to my friends,” he said.
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