By AUBRIE GEORGE | The Moorestown Sun
Susan Ambrose, Moorestown resident, mother of a child with cerebral palsy and member of Moorestown’s Special Education Advocacy Council, or SpEAC, believes that awareness is key in achieving the acceptance of children with learning differences.
What better month to promote the idea of awareness than during Autism Awareness month — which takes place, nationally, in April. That’s why the members of SpEAC are making a special effort to promote autism awareness throughout town this month with events held within the school district.
“We wanted our community to start becoming aware. A lot of kids just don’t know what it is,” Ambrose said. “If they learn it when they are younger, then they will be more accepting of it when they see it.”
Throughout the month, events promoting autism awareness will happen throughout the school district in hope of helping Moorestown schoolchildren understand the disease as well as the challenges that both children and their parents endure in living with autism and in advocating for their education.
Planned events include a book reading at the elementary schools and a movie screening at Upper Elementary School.
But one event that began with an idea from Ambrose’s 7-year-old son, Craig.
It all began because Ambrose’s father is skilled in woodworking,
and one day, at Ambrose’s suggestion, created a jigsaw puzzle that depicted the Autism Ribbon — a nationally recognized symbol that’s multi-colored brightness and puzzle pieces represent the mystery, complexity, diversity and hope of people living with autism as well as their families.
Ambrose decided to sell the puzzles under an organization she created to distribute awareness materials called “Puzzles for a Cure.” At first, Ambrose and her father made a few, which sold very fast. Unable to keep up with the demand for puzzles, Ambrose decided to market the puzzle to toy stores, such as Happy Hippo, which have agreed to sell the puzzles in stores beginning this summer. A portion of the proceeds from all of Ambrose’s awareness products goes to help children with special needs.
One night at home, Ambrose’s son Craig took the puzzle and traced it.
He then told his mother that they should create a puzzle that could be colored in. He cut out his tracing, colored it in and put a string through the hole so it could be hung up.
And so, a new product was born — a colorable version of the puzzle similar to the one Craig created that night, which is complete with a pack of markers that resemble the colors on the national symbol.
Thanks to Craig’s idea, the colorable puzzles are being marketed as well, but first, Moorestown students will color in their own version of the puzzle and the results will be hung up throughout the hallways of the schools in April.
“The idea is that every child will color the puzzle differently, because every child is different,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose said the group hopes to extend the entire month-long celebration of Autism Awareness throughout the years to come, and even hope to involve the entire community more in coming years.
Thanks to the artwork and continuous help and donation of Joe Thompson of Berry & Homer, a banner displaying the community’s celebration of Autism Awareness will be displayed on Main Street for the entire month so that all members of the community will be reminded that April is Autism Awareness Month and that awareness is key to acceptance.
But even with a month dedicated to awareness, Ambrose acknowledges that the journey to acceptance is not an easy road.
“No disability comes invited,” Ambrose said. “We have to take the ‘dis’ out of disability, and that can be a hard thing to do.”
That’s where SpEAC comes in with a goal to positively impact the education of all students with an emphasis on those with special needs.
The group advocates for and represents students and parents of students who need or are receiving educational services due to their educational needs.
To help parents who might feel lost or alone in advocating for their child’s fair and equal education, Ambrose and other SpEAC members encourage and invite anyone with a child who has a learning difference to begin by attending a SpEAC meeting.
Ambrose said the group is a very powerful and supportive resource for parents to learn how to advocate for their children’s education as well as to find resources for themselves.
The group also uses networking to help bring about new resources, Ambrose said.
“You always thought that the worst thing is having a child with a disability. It’s not. It’s trying to get help for that child,” Ambrose said.
Ambrose said the group is a powerful and unique asset to parents of children with learning differences in Moorestown.
“When we hold events where there are people from other towns, people always say to us ‘I wish we had this in our town,’” Ambrose said.
Ambrose said parents shouldn’t be afraid to come to a meeting. Members don’t ask for anything from attendees, not even names as to assuage any apprehensions parents may have about being judged or labeled.
“Don’t be afraid to come because all you can get is help,” Ambrose said.
The next meeting will occur on Thursday, April 23. All SpEAC meetings are held at Moorestown High School’s Star Center from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m.
More information of SpEAC can be found through the Moorestown school district’s Web site at www.mtps.com, under the Parent Resources tab.