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Thursday, July 24, 2014

Marking the days: Special student turns class calendar project into fund-raiser for autism

Monday, March 24, 2003

(Photo)
Aaron Fowler, a junior at New Madrid County Central High School, displays a page of the next calendar, one for the class of 2003, that he is working on.
NEW MADRID - Flip the calendar. The days are the same, the months are the same. Year after year.

For Aaron Fowler that sameness is an avenue to display his creativity and his skills with the computer.

It is also a way for him to raise money for Judevine Autism Society. That's important to Fowler, who is autistic.

A complex developmental disability, autism is a multifaceted communication and sensory impairment that impedes the processing of information. While Fowler has always attended regular academic classes, the New Madrid County R-1 School District has worked closely with the now high school junior and his family to mesh the work with his developmental needs.

The calendar was just one lesson in his Desktop Publishing Class in the Graphic Arts Department at New Madrid County Central's Technical Skills Center. Each student was required to create a personalized calendar.

Fowler excelled at the lesson.

"He does so well at things that are repetitious," said Kim Morrill, the graphic arts teacher.

That is typical of those with autism - for unexplained reasons, people with autism demand consistency in their environment.

Fowler's first calendar in his new venture featured dogs. A second calendar is going on sale with informal photos of the Class of 2003, with plans to develop calendars featuring each of the high school classes. Also he is considering special order family calendars, one with trucks and even a floral calendar.

"He has several good ideas and he is doing a good job," praised his teacher.

Using the Adobe Pagemaker publishing program, Fowler scans the photos using Adobe Photoshop. Morrill said there were no concessions made for Fowler because of his autism; he was expected to perform the same tasks as his classmates.

Well, there is one exception. For some with autism, their senses may be over- or under-active. Fowler is very sensitive to touch and will work on only two of the keyboards available in the classroom.

The calendar project has enabled Fowler to focus on his classwork, Morrill said. And she admits it has taught her something as well. "This has been a great success for him. It's not me, it's him. I've learned a lot through this about what a person can do. Aaron has opened my eyes."

The son of Robert and Diane Fowler, Fowler is the first student with autism to be mainstreamed - or enrolled in regular academic classes with modifications made to meet his needs - in the district.

Just like the national trend, which shows autism is growing at a rate of 10-17 percent per year, school officials say there are a growing numbers of students in the district with autism. They are preparing for their arrival at the high school level.

Cindi Jones, special education director for the district, expects these students will also be mainstreamed. Thanks to Fowler's success, it demonstrates that children with autism can learn and function productively and show gains with appropriate education and treatment, she said.

"This has worked," added Jones. "He took what he succeeded at and he made it his own. That is what we hope we will do with them."

Fowler's mother praised school administrators and teachers for their willingness in working with the family as they tried to find ways to keep their son with his peers. A teacher herself, she has gone to national autism conferences looking for ways to facilitate his education.

"We appreciate what the school has done - not a lot of school systems would have let us try different things. There are new things coming out about autism all the time. We have always tried to do what is best for Aaron and so have the teachers and students.

"I think anytime you have a special kid, he has to be treated a little different to function in society," said Mrs. Fowler. "You look for ways you can adapt a program to provide a skill he can use the rest of his life."

The calendar project, she noted, is just such a skill.

"He was proud of his first calendar," said his mother, who is equally proud of her son. "He did have some help but it gave him a real sense of accomplishment. We are just seeing what works for Aaron, what jobs that he will enjoy."

Fowler also files papers for a local government agency, assists in the school library and has tried his hand at janitorial work.

But right now he is concentrating on his calendars. "This is my favorite thing to do," he explained with a broad smile. "They're fun!"