To The Editor:

A typical morning for most people may entail waking up, brushing their teeth, making the bed and eating breakfast, activities that, done day after day, become almost mindless. For a person with autism, tasks such as these can be obstacles involving intensive focus, effort and practice.

As program director of the High Road School of Wright City, (which partners with school districts to meet the needs of students with autism, emotional disturbance, ADHD and other diagnoses) one of my main priorities is helping our students secure their independence.

Small, habitual life skills like grocery shopping and preparing meals are some of the stepping stones that lead to a lifelong sense of freedom, responsibility and control. Equipping individuals with these skills while they’re young increases their chances at transitioning into an independent, self-sufficient life.

This means that when you walk into one of our classrooms, you might see teachers assisting students with bed-making. You may see us at the grocery store helping our students fill their carts and pay the cashier. Our goal is to introduce students to these activities in safe, familiar environments, so that they begin to feel natural, predictable and attainable.

A critical component of this development is transitioning to work. Getting a job is tough work, particularly for individuals with autism. Supporting students on their path to independence is an ongoing priority for our staff.

We work to ensure our students have the resources, knowledge and confidence to enter the workforce. Individualized career assessments, mock interviews, training programs and assistance with local job placement are integrated into our curriculum. Our team strives to help our students become happy, productive members of society and have a seamless transition into employment post graduation.

We know that self-sufficiency, financial security and a strong support system are just some of the pieces that help individuals with autism live a fulfilled, positive life.

Autism isn’t the label that defines my students. One thing that I would like everyone to know about kids with autism is that what defines them is their own personalities and determination. Children and teenagers with autism deserve the very best education. I’m proud to go to work every day and help create a path to success, regardless of learning obstacles or other challenges.

Aaron O’Neal

Program Director, High Road School of Wright City

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