Teaching Across Spectrum: Local teachers learn obstacles in educating autistic students

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Hancock Principal Ezekiel Ohan initiated the autism spectrum disorder training for middle school and high school staff, which began in December 2018 so teachers and staff can provide a better learning experience for autistic students.

HANCOCK — When middle and high school staff received more training in autism spectrum Disorder (ASD) sensitivity training on Wednesday, Kristine Roggemann autism consultant with the Copper Country Intermediate School District, offered a bit of insight into ASD.

“When we talk about kids,” Roggemann said in an interview. “We don’t talk about if you’re on the spectrum, you are not high-functioning and you are low-functioning. You have excellent skills in math, but maybe poor social skills. You have great social skills, but you can’t do math. But that doesn’t mean that you are low-functioning. It means that that area is a deficit for you.”

Roggemann said she becomes frustrated when she hears a student referred to as high-functioning. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, autism is known as a “spectrum” disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience. ASD occurs in all ethnic, racial, and economic groups.

Although ASD can be a lifelong disorder, treatments and services can improve a person’s symptoms and ability to function. The ASD sensitivity training is intended to help Hancock school staff achieve that goal.

Roggemann asked that there is one thing to with which to be distinct, and that is children are not diagnosed with autism.

“Schools make kids eligible for special education services,” she pointed out. “We do not diagnose autism. OK? That is very specific.”

To determine eligibility requires a team, Roggemann said. The team consists of a school psychologist, social worker and speech therapist. There is also a general education teacher, special education teacher and autism coordinator.

“We, as a team, do observations and some evaluations to determine eligibility,” Roggemann said. “Then they have to show deficits in three areas: academic, social and behavioral. Typically, it is going to be a deficit in each of the areas to really say that they’re not able to access the curriculum, because academically they’re not capable, or behaviors keep them out of the classroom, or socially, I can’t demonstrate knowledge to you or interact with a group.”

Autism is typically coordinated with another eligibility, whether is a learning disability, cognitive impairment, speech disorder, behaviorial disorder or an emotional disorder, which can include anxiety.

Anxiety, Roggeman said, is a primary factor for students on the autism spectrum.