OCOEE, Fla. – April is Autism Acceptance Month and for students with autism at Thornebrooke Elementary School in Ocoee, inclusion is a daily focus.
Corin Metz is a varying exceptionalities teacher. The school has four units for children with autism, all with small classes. Metz’s teaches a class of eight students.
“Our students that are in our self-contained classrooms, their ability varies from being pretty profound and needing a lot of help to pretty independent. So what we do is we just want to foster that independence and learning in the self-contained classroom where we can keep that classroom small,” she said.
Metz says students of varying grade levels are in the same classroom, but the small setting allows each child to receive the intensity he or she needs.
“We do a lot of creating our own materials or adapting of the general education materials so we can meet the needs of those students to help them make their academic gains.”
Metz says daily inclusion of students with autism and typical students helps build community outside of the school.
“You have to be able to accept different kinds of people, and so this gives them a great opportunity. They get to witness all kinds of things. We have some really fantastic children who are very welcoming and they get to see sometimes when things get a little challenging, too,” Metz said. “I go to the grocery store and see some people who might be doing different types of behaviors or something, but the more exposure you have, the more acceptance you will have.”
Metz advises parents who think their young child may have autism, to see help early.
“Early intervention is best. Ask a lot of questions,” she said.
The school also has a program called Barracuda Buddies, where typical students play with the students with autism during recess or lunch. However, Metz says because of restrictions during the pandemic, that program is temporarily on hold.