Carmel school leads the way in autism education


Carmel - April is Autism Awareness Month and a Carmel School is drawing attention for its breakthrough approach in autism education.

"Tantrums, meltdowns, falling on the floor screaming, kicking. He did not want to be here," said Monica Hartmeister, speaking of her son.

Hartmeister didn't know what to expect when she transferred her son to Creekside Middle School to take part in a new program designed for students with autism.

"Within weeks he had just became a different child," she said.

"We saw a lot of success with the children who had autism," said Jeanne Meredith, teacher.

Three years ago, teachers at Creekside targeted three students with autism. Dozens have come through the program since then, and they estimate as many as 400 teachers, principals and other educators have visited here to learn more.

One of the first three students was Monica's son Sam.

Without the program, "I think that our transition to high school would have been a complete and utter meltdown."

Creekside soon learned the methods to help special needs students could also be used to help all students. Teachers use "visual supports" so students understand their emotions when they become excited, confused, tired or anxious. Teachers use a triangle scale as an instant report card to modify student behavior.

"What we look at is, 1 and 2 are behaviors that we want to see in the classroom, 3 and 4 you're starting to get a little escalator, anxiety's a little higher, and five are behaviors we do not want to see in the classroom. This is one of the most valuable tools we've used," said Meredith.

The approach has been key in dealing with the high anxiety that students with autism typically feel.

"That right there de-escalates the situation just a little bit so they start to talk about what's gonna help them," said Dave Jennings, assistant principal.

Monica's son Sam is now finishing up his freshman year.

"It was the best transition ever. He went from here to the high school with not a problem. And that's the first time in our lives that's ever happened," said Hartmeister.

Creekside Elementary is now recognized as a model site for educating students with autism.

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