Autism Program Helps Students Cope

By Jeanette Stewart,
The StarPhoenix June 15, 2010

Drew Kloeble graduates as one of the first participants in an autism program at Evan Hardy Collegiate

The Graduates is a series of profiles on some of the city’s most inspiring graduates of 2010, those who faced significant challenges on their journey
to earn a secondary school diploma.

When the fire alarm went off at school, Drew Kloeble would panic. He’d bolt down the hallways, intent on being the first one out.
Noises in class would bother him, as Asperger’s syndrome made him sensitive to the slightest sound.

“When I went into the hallway, it hurt, and I’d run, do crazy things,” Kloeble said.

Four years after he started, Kloeble, 19, will graduate from Evan Hardy Collegiate as one of the first participants to finish teacher Coreen Dutka’s
autism program. He’s one of a group of students who began working with her four years ago.
Dutka has created a bit of a family with her classroom, which during the school day is a quiet haven for students with a higher level of need. The
students in Dutka’s classroom are high-functioning, cognitively capable students with Asperger’s syndrome and average to above-average intelligence.

Many were bullied and ridiculed throughout elementary school, have more limited social skills or had difficulty staying in classrooms long enough to
learn, says Dutka. Though they are “socially off the beaten path,” they find company in one another, she says.
“It’s a bit like a bunch of brothers that are saying, ‘You are weird and you’re ticking me off,’ ” said Dutka. “They see each other’s
eccentricities.”

Kloeble says the most significant part of the autism program is that it’s smaller than other classrooms and easier to interact with other students.
“At first it helped me because I couldn’t even go to regular classrooms. I’m better now,” he said. “I suppose I could get by without the room now, but
when I was first starting it was like a haven for me.”

Shawn Silverthorn, 19, will also graduate this year and continue his job at an auto shop in Saskatoon.
He says being part of the autism program has helped him gain work skills, meet other people and remember his assignments. Being around other people has become easier.
“Ms. Dutka is very caring and understanding, and willing to help. Everything
about it is good,” he said. He said being in this classroom is a lot better than being part of a regular classroom and receiving help from an
educational assistant. He doesn’t think he’d have finished high school without the help of the program.

“The way they do things, it’s pretty much perfect,” he said. “If you need help, someone’s right there.”

Students sit at desks or at one of several computers in the classroom, which is based on the model of a resource room and allows for social skills
opportunities and career education along with regular classroom work. Students also have a lunchroom with couches and a classroom rabbit, and the
room houses the bins for the high school’s recycling program, which Kloeble is a big part of.

Last year, he earned a special credit for growing plants and distributing them to teachers around the school. He also worked at a local florist’s
shop. Students are allowed to focus on subjects they have an interest in, says Dutka.
Kloeble enjoys creative writing and English courses, as well as chemistry. In his spare time he creates music on the computer and plays soccer, he will return to the program for one more semester to study biology. After that, he hopes a personal assessment will show him what path to take after
his Evan Hardy days are behind him.

jstewart@sp.canwest.com

The StarPhoenix

Reproduced from http://www.thestarphoenix.com/health/haven/3154698/story.html