SpEAC continues autism efforts

By AUBRIE GEORGE | The Moorestown Sun

The Moorestown Special Education Advocacy Council (SpEAC) just designated a month to spreading autism awareness throughout the community, but the group’s efforts to take the “dis” out of disability continue all year long.

Because April was national autism awareness month, SpEAC members attempted to spread awareness throughout the Moorestown school district by sending home flyers with students and holding events aimed toward spreading the message of tolerance and awareness among younger students.

This year, group members held Autism Awareness Spirit Days at Mary E. Roberts and George C. Baker elementary schools, Sue Ambrose, a SpeAC member, said. Students in each grade were asked to wear a specific color that represented a color on the autism puzzle — a nationally recognized symbol, which uses puzzle pieces to reflect the complexity of the autism spectrum and different shapes and colors that represent the diversity of families living with the condition, according to the Autism Society of America.

Students wearing the various colors gathered in the gym and made a “body puzzle” that mimicked the autism ribbon, Ambrose said.

“It was a fun activity for students to do,” Ambrose said. “It showed them that it’s all about awareness and teamwork.”

SpEAC members also sent home flyers depicting the autism ribbon with students that can be colored in and cut out, which was an idea created by Ambrose’s son, Craig.

“The idea is each child will color the puzzle differently, because each child is different,” Ambrose said.

For each returned ribbon, SpEAC plans to donate five cents to the district, which will be used to purchase supplies for special education programs in Moorestown. The returned ribbons will be placed on display at Moorestown schools.

Spreading the image of the puzzle to students helps them recognize the autism ribbon when they see it elsewhere, which helps spread awareness and acceptance of the condition, Ambrose said.

SpEAC also sent home informative flyers for all parents and students explaining the disease as well as the group’s efforts to raise awareness about it.

Amrbose also donated several autism awareness floor puzzles created by her organization, Puzzles For Cures, to lower elementary school classrooms in Moorestown.

In addition, to activities within the schools, the group held its yearly conference, “Pathways to Success”, which invited all members of the community to hear a lineup of speakers including some from the district as well as motivational speaker Paul Wichansky.

Ambrose said of all the speakers she’s heard in the past several years Wichansky was by far the most inspiring.

Wichansky, who was born with cerebral palsy, spoke to students about taking what life gives you and turning it into a positive experience, Ambrose said.

“The sky wasn’t even the limit for him,” Ambrose said.

Special needs children who were present benefited from asking him questions, such as how he dealt with certain situation while he was in school, Ambrose said.

This year’s conference was also special because members of the local business community including Manhattan Bagel, Starbucks and Bacio, helped SpEAC pull it off when grant money to provide breakfast for participants fell through.

“The local people helped the local community, and that’s big today because they’re suffering financially too,” Ambrose said.

Wichansky was so inspiring for parents, educators and the students with disabilities who were at the conference, that members have been inspired to raise money to bring in motivational speakers that can speak to all Moorestown students next year, not just those with disabilities.

In an effort to do so, SpEAC will hold a fund-raiser on May 16 at the Barnes and Noble and the Learning Express in Cherry Hill.

Activities will be held on Sunday, but the fund-raiser will continue until Tuesday. Members of the community who shop at those stores can mention SpEAC so that a portion of proceeds will be donated to the organization.

Activities for children from pre school to lower elementary school will take place from noon to 2:45 p.m. at Barnes and Noble. Activities include crafts and story times.

From 3 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., a certified occupational therapist from Sensational Kids in Marlton will be at the Learning Express demonstrating toys for kids to improve their fine motor and gross motor skills.

Ambrose said there would also be a “just like me” program going on, which uses different activities to teach children what it’s like to live with a disability.

Amrbose said she hopes the awareness being spread about autism is one day going to result in a cure for the condition.

“You just can’t do enough,” she said. “Any time you do something good, you just wish you could find a cure.”

For more information about SpEAC visit their section under the school district’s Web site, www.mtps.com/speac