The Last Piece of the Puzzle

April is Autism Awareness Month

A hand writing the word Autism on a chalkboard under colorful puzzle piece drawings.

Sharon Dominick

A hand writing the word Autism on a chalkboard under colorful puzzle piece drawings.

Piecing up this puzzle is an easy one, especially when it makes the blue, red, and yellow autism awareness ribbon that is the most recognized symbol of the autism community. Autism prevalence is now one in every 68 children in America according to Every 2nd of April, autism awareness organizations around the world celebrate the day with activities and awareness-raising events. The whole purpose of the day is to spread awareness, but organizers want to go beyond just promoting awareness.  They want to encourage friends, family, and others all to become partners in a movement toward acceptance and appreciation for those with autism.

Characteristic behaviors of autism may be apparent in infancy (18 to 24 months), but they usually become clearer during early childhood (2 to 6 years old). In order to separate symptoms from other medical conditions other than autism, a differential diagnosis must take place. This separates medical diagnosis and educational determination. A medical diagnosis is made by a physician based on an assessment of symptoms and diagnostic testing. There is no physical medical testing for autism. They also take into account the person’s developmental history, and their heredity. An educational determination is made by a multidisciplinary evaluation team of various school professionals. The results of the evaluation are then reviewed by the parents and a qualified group of professionals. They then determine if or whether the student qualifies for special education. The process of diagnosing autism varies on the patient. They could be diagnosed right away or it could take several years for a response.

Marty Sullivan teaches PAL PE within the high school, a class that allows students to bond with autistic students along with others who have disabilities. A class that has long been integrated in the school, Sullivan commented on its popularity. “I believe the reason we have such an interest is due to the tremendous compassion and tolerance the students at Waukee have.” Each term, PAL PE has a large amount of students participating in the class. Students are assigned a pal and work with them, alongside other pals, bonding over the next nine weeks.

Many field trips and fun activities are held, such as trips to the arts center or a movie day, making for a busy, yet fun environment in the class. Sullivan also added the importance of students bonding with other students who have disabilities and/or autism. “It gives them a unique opportunity to establish relationships with students with disabilities and gives them an understanding of the challenges some of them face and to experience the beauties of their personalities.” PAL PE is more than just a class, it’s a bonding experience to bring together students who are all uniquely different.


A* ware* ness


knowledge or perception of a situation or fact

What it looks like in Waukee: Waukee offers a variety of courses and clubs to help bring together students and students with disabilities, some of these courses involve PAL PE and the club Best Buddies.




The action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered

What it looks like in Waukee: Just because someone is different, it doesn’t make them any less deserving of acceptance or equality. Making simple gestures, such as a smile or small talk, goes a long way.




The recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something

What it looks line in Waukee: Instead of seeing the difference in students with disabilities, try, instead, to see the similarities. A lot of these students enjoy the things we do, like sports, or music. (These things also make for good conversation starters).




The fact or process of doing something, typically to achieve an aim.

What it looks like in Waukee: Taking initiative, going out of the way to talk to these students. If interested, sign up to take PAL PE. Every little thing counts.

April should not be the only month to take initiative for autism awareness. While there is only one month dedicated to celebrating disabilities and autism, whose to say that students with these qualities should not be celebrated all the time. Being different is special and these students contribute a special piece to the puzzle.