(Updated at 2:55 p.m.) In honor of World Autism Awareness Day, Rep. Jim Moran (D) spent the morning reading to first graders at Barcroft Elementary School and talking with them about autism.
After meeting with some students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), Moran read the first graders a story about everyone being different and how everyone’s differences should be celebrated. He explained that autism is another difference, just one that can’t be seen.
“Nobody is the same as everybody else, which is wonderful! Some children have different challenges,” Moran told the children. “Some children have autism. Autism is a challenge that affects the way our brains work. So some children have different ways their brain works.”
One of the students noted his brother has autism, to which Moran responded, “So he’s different and special and wonderful.”
Moran also talked to the students about the “AUTISM Educators Act,” a bill he is re-introducing to request funding for training educators how best to work with students with autism. Barcroft is one of the schools currently offering special services for students with autism, and training all staff members how to work with students with ASD. It is considered a model for other schools across the country.
“We’re going to try to teach other teachers around the country how to be as good of teachers as you have at Barcroft Elementary,” Moran told the students. “We’re going to use Barcroft Elementary as a model for other schools to learn from.”
The bill would establish a five-year pilot program to provide the special training for teachers and school staff. There would also be a focus on recruitment and retention of trained personnel and implementation of a program for parental support and involvement.
“I actually think this bill is going to become law. This is one that I think is going to make an enormous difference in the classrooms around the country that have children on the autistic spectrum,” Moran told ARLnow.com. “This is going to be groundbreaking legislation. I know it’s going to be bipartisan, I already have Republican sponsors. So I think we’re going to get it passed in the House, and I’m confident we’ll get it passed in the Senate as well. It’s going to become law all because the parents in the Arlington school system worked with the superintendent and the principals and the teachers and the teacher aides to make it happen in a way that other school systems can learn from.”
Moran is requesting up to $5 million for the pilot program and could ask for more once the program expands around the nation. We’re told the funds will come from existing teacher development accounts.