5:45pm

Tue June 3, 2014
Education

A support system to combat the isolation of Asperger's on campus

For a lot of high school students, the best part of their day is spending time with friends. That's also the case for students with Asperger's syndrome, which is characterized by trouble with social interactions, especially in reading nonverbal cues.

Asperger's advocate Temple Grandin says that though people on the spectrum may have trouble with socialization, it does not mean that they prefer isolation. In fact, many have isolated themselves after years of feeling misunderstood. 

That's where the Asperger Inclusion Program at Skyline High School comes in. The program seeks to address that problem with the help of one very dedicated teacher -- and a strong support staff. 

"We create a community in which they can be whoever they are and it is really valued," says Courtney Gumora, Asperger Inclusion coordinating teacher at Skyline.

Gumora sees students transform in the program, which gets students with Asperger's together for daily classroom meetings. At first they come into it withdrawn and shut down.

"And slowly to see that chip away, chip away, melt away, melt away, and what you find inside is this insane gem," she says.

According to Gumora, parents began taking notice of Asperger's syndrome in the late '90s. A small group noticed that their children, while performing well academically, struggled to make friends. And in the classroom, they acted out. The parents approached the elementary school’s administration, which did some testing and found that they presented characteristics that fit the high-functioning autism that is Asperger's.

The Asperger Inclusion Program started on the elementary school level and as more kids were diagnosed they brought it with them to Skyline, the first high school in the district to have the program.

Some students still don't want to be in school, even with that support. 

This is what Gumora is battling with in the classroom: academically gifted kids that have struggled with the isolation of Asperger's.

Still, when the program works, making friends is the best part.

"The Asperger's inclusion program gave me somewhere to go, like a hub I could go to do work and hang out with friends," says Jacob, who graduated from Skyline in 2012.

Many of the program's graduates remain close friends and have gone on to college programs. 

"I feel emotional even talking about that," Gumora says. "It's huge for them."

Megan Susman is a student reporter at Mills College in Oakland. Mills reporters spent a semester getting to know the kids, teachers and culture of Skyline High School to bring us a portrait of the school.

 

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