This is Eli…

Jennifer Woodley, Communication Specialist

A little over a week ago, I visited Jamie Reifsteck’s first grade classroom in the Fairfield Community School District to participate in an Autism Awareness activity. I was welcomed by a group of smiling faces and blue shirts! “We are all wearing blue today – for Eli!” they told me, “Eli has Autism.”

Eli’s family (mom, dad, and sister) visit the class a couple of times a year to share information, lead awareness activities, and encourage the kids to ask questions about Eli and Autism. “All this is to help build a community around Eli. We don’t want the kids scared or confused, and we want them to be comfortable interacting with Eli anywhere at any time,” explained Eli’s dad and Great Prairie AEA School Improvement Specialist, Mike Stiemsma. “It’s great when they see him at Hy-Vee, they run up and give him a high 5 and say “hi” even if he doesn’t say “hi” back.”

After reading the story, I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont, Eli’s mom, Sarah, begins a puzzle activity. “You are becoming Eli experts!” she states. “And becoming Autism experts, because of all of the time you spend with Eli.” The students then took turns raising their hand to share facts about Autism and Eli on a puzzle piece.

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Traci Adkins is Eli’s full-time aid, “I’ve been with Eli for two years,” she says as he hugs her goodbye for the day. “He’s such a great kid – I love my job and I love working with him!”

I agree with Traci and applaud Eli’s parents for building a community around him by visiting the school building and offering to visit with other classrooms about Autism. Thank you to the Fairfield Community School District and Ms. Reifsteck’s first grade class for allowing me to visit. And a special thank you to Eli and his family for allowing me to participate and help spread awareness.

Autism occurs in approximately 1 out of every 68 births (CDC, March 2014) and is five times more common in males than in females. To learn more about Autism and support from Great Prairie AEA visit http://www.gpaea.org/en/services/autism/.

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