Innovative program helps students with autism
For many students who have been diagnosed with some form of autism, social skills and the means to practice them is a big challenge. In response, an innovative and much heralded program has been instituted at Beavercreek High School with results that are nothing less than stellar.
Jennifer Schmidt, a special education teacher who has worked in the district nine years, helped create an intentionally immersive social skills class that specifically focuses on improving student’s social deficiencies. Schmidt’s students are highly intelligent but need practice on processes like identifying social keys, utilizing eye contact, and learning how to start conversations.
The program relies heavily on peer coaches who are Beavercreek High School students that on a daily basis serve as mentors, positive role models, and examples of healthy social interaction. “We designed the course around what was not working,” Schmidt said. “If you put a student with poor social skills in a classroom filled with other students who have the same problem, it’s not the best situation for learning.”
Through daily interaction with peer coaches in and outside the classroom, students with autism learn how to deal with any stress that comes with social situations. This encourages students to begin trying new things that eventually lead to healthy outcomes. According to Schmidt, “Many parents have told me their child is so much happier because they have made friends.”
Positive results have continued since the 2007-2008 school year when Schmidt piloted the program with Cindy Brinson, a district speech pathologist. Ultimately, the program helps students handle real-world situations, a critical skill needed to function after they graduate. Schmidt has witnessed these results firsthand, “I have seen so many kids have a better life because they are learning social skills from their peers.”
For more information about this program including an upcoming book from Jennifer Schmidt, click here.