Wednesday, June 22, 2011

School Finds Gifts in Autistic Children

Berwyn, Ill. — Karol Sigda is as bright as he is troubled.

He knows nearly every dinosaur and the era they came from, but gets so frustrated by handwriting that he struggles to complete book reports. The 8-year-old Berwyn resident already has developed plots for three more “Star Wars” sequels, but sometimes lacks the social skills to effectively communicate with his classmates and teachers.

Sigda has Asperger syndrome, a high-functioning diagnosis within the autism spectrum of disorders.
From an education standpoint, Sigda is problematic. He’s years ahead of his classmates in many ways, but still occasionally throws tantrums or just shuts down if he feels bored.

Rather than put Sigda and other children like him in special education classes, Havlicek Elementary School Principal Nancy Akin decided to try something new. Sigda and two other autistic third-grade boys were placed in a gifted program known simply as AIMS at the beginning of the most recent school year.

“We have known Karol and how bright he is since he’s been in kindergarten, and we wanted to give him and the other kids a chance to use their intellect,” Akin said. “One of the things that they talk about in the AIMS program is that every student has the right to optimal development, and we believe that too often, kids that are bright but have some kind of disability, for whatever reason, aren’t given that chance.”

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