DOE Autism Effort Steps Up In WW

Editor’s note: Communications specialist Jorene Barut of the DOE Windward District office contributed to this report.

There’s some good news for autistic children here, as Castle Complex is expanding the Windward District’s respected program to reach new campuses and help more of the area’s afflicted keiki.

In five years, the district’s autism program already has grown to include 67 employees who serve 206 children in its 31 schools.

The initial training classroom — for both students and teachers — is at Ahuimanu Elementary School, which earned the state’s first certification in Instructional Capacity in March. By September, Ahuimanu’s trademark “virtual coaching” method should be available to all district parents in a cafe setting at Heeia Elementary School, which will be equipped with a computer lab and lounge, and consulting services. It also will offer the opportunity for talk-story time among parents.

“Our cutting-edge training for our staff and teachers is customizable, flexible and adjustable,” said program leader Aletha Sutton, the district’s autism education specialist. Ahuimanu’s classroom, for example, links cameras to earpieces worn by teachers, tutors and educational assistants so they can get instant feedback from experts (at a remote location) as they work with the children.

The autism program recently added training classrooms districtwide, including at Castle High and King Intermediate, and teachers are taking courses for credits at the sites. Ten new training courses are in development.

Parents interviewed are optimistic about the strides their children are now making with the support of trained, motivated staff. Single father Keawe Valente said his son Ano changed from a 4-year-old, nonverbal boy in diapers to a sociable child of 8 who is eager to read.

“I give full credit to Ano’s teacher at Ahuimanu, who not only potty-trained him, but also helped him when his vocabulary was cooing and one or two words while he pointed,” Valente said. “Now he talks in sentences, knows basic math and reads.

“I’ll never forget the first time I was driving and he started reading signs that we passed, like ‘Windward Community Federal Credit Union.’ I can’t wait to see what happens when he’s in sixth grade.”

Another parent praises the school’s effort to communicate: “They’re always asking for our input,” noted Lori Letoto.

All other markers have improved as well for the Ahuimanu keiki, reports say, such as peer interaction, social skills, reading and time spent in the general education classrooms.

Academically, some students moved up four grade levels in two years for reading.