by Kerry Fehr-Snyder – Mar. 8, 2012 09:36 AM
The Republic | azcentral.com
Haley Elementary in Chandler this week staged performances of a play that was unique in one respect: Alongside typical students were autistic students.
The school’s drama club integrates special-education students with those in general education to help both thrive.
“It’s a lot of peer relationships,” music teacher Nicole Kamboukos said. “We expose not only special-education kids to general-education kids, but we want the general-education kids to have experiences with special-education kids.”
Haley has become a magnet school of sorts for autistic students in the Chandler Unified School District. Forty-three students in the 700-student school have some form of autism, from severe cases to Asperger’s syndrome.
More than 100 students wore mermaid, seagull, sea turtle and sailor costumes to act, sing and dance in the 90-minute play “Under the Sea: Ariel and Friends.” Students with autism performed with other students with few hitches during dress rehearsal.
The production was the brainchild of Amy Miller, a special-education teacher at the school.
“Autism has always been a passion of mine,” Miller said. “I’m in love with the potential to get them (autistic children) to the max, to be as successful as they can be.”
Children with autism learn more by modeling typical behavior of non-autistic children, Miller said.
“It’s better for them to see their peers in social settings like this,” she said.
For parent Cathy Logan, the drama club and the school have been key in helping her 10-year-old son, Freddy, develop.
“He was completely non-verbal till he was 5,” Logan said.
Freddy dressed as a sea turtle and had two speaking parts, for which he admitted being nervous.
“He has sensory issues so he doesn’t like things on his head,” Logan said, referring to the hooded top Freddy had to wear for his part. “This is a big deal, and he doesn’t even realize it.”
Logan said the school play is a highlight for her son.
“As a parent, it makes you feel like everyone else, not like an outcast.”