Like all children, those who have autism just want to have fun.
North Main Street School teacher Dawn Morris knows this personally, because her young son received a diagnosis about two years ago of a form of the neurological disorder.
A 15-year teaching veteran of the Pleasantville school district, Morris was instrumental in helping to coordinate this year's Blowing Bubbles 4 Autism event at the school, which took place April 1 and was part of a worldwide celebration of autism awareness.
About 350 students from pre-K to fifth grade classes gathered for the massive bubble blowing event on the side play area of the school. Holding vials of soap, the students sent thousands of tiny translucent bubbles into the air.
Blowing bubbles to raise awareness of autism, now in its 11th year, was started by the Ventnor-based FACES 4 Autism nonprofit support group. April is also National Autism Awareness Month.
While the event was a fun classroom break, its symbolism was serious. Bubbles represent how children of autism often feel like they are trapped inside a bubble, unable to express themselves and relate to their peers because of their disorder. The idea behind the bubble-blowing concept is to burst those bubbles and bring acceptance and awareness through education.
It's also explained that each bubble sent into the air represents a wish of hope for a cure.
This year, teachers and staff at the school participated in Dress Down Day and other in-service events, and they raised about $200 to donate to FACES.
Students and staff also kicked off the month with various activities, including making ribbons and conducting an interactive tour on the "Autism Adventure Trail," in which students were provided with some facts about autism.
"I visited every classroom earlier this week and explained to the students why we were blowing bubbles, and I told them all about my son and what he goes through," Morris explained. "They all were really excited to be able to do their part to show support."
Fifth-grade teacher Aaron Washington grew up with an older brother who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum when he was younger and said seeing others participate in awareness events about the disorder means a lot to him.
"Days like this are great because it means acceptance and understanding for those with autism," said Washington, while bubbles swirled in the air around him.
One of the goals of the awareness event was to promote inclusion and reduce bullying, Principal Teresa McGaney-Guy noted.
"As we educate our students about autism, we will help them to understand the differences in the way people think and perceive the world," said McGaney-Guy. "North Main Street School will continue throughout the month to shine a bright light on autism."
School social worker Turkessa Lee, who is on the Child Study Team, said she sees students readily accept each others' differences.
"They are so welcoming of all children," said Lee, who was outside helping the students with their bubbles. "We try to instill a sense of compassion."
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