One of the best medicines in life is friendship.
Research has shown that one of the most effective ways to promote social skills in children with autism is to teach their classmates what it means to be autistic.
At Union Mill Elementary School in Clifton, Va., an interactive two-day program shows grade-schoolers the daily challenges of an autistic child.
Students rotate through a series of specialized obtacle courses to have a sense of what it is like to be autistic.
Instead of jumping double-dutch or shooting hoops during gym class, these students are attempting to button a shirt wearing thick oversized gloves. The exercise is one of many that simulates the difficulty many autistic children have with fine motor skills.
To convey perception confusion, a symptom associated with autism, the Union Mill students try to complete a maze only looking at the reflection of the maze through a mirror.
"I think it would be very hard to be autistic and do that every day," said one student.
For the second year in a row, Nicole Moore and Melyssa Plath have set up the program in the school’s gymnasium.
Both are mothers of children with autism. They say they hope the activities will foster a greater understanding of autism and possibly help form friendships between kids with autism and those without it.
"The whole point is so that a child with autism can have a friend, and people are not intimidated by approaching them on the playground," Moore said." They can better understand why a child with autism is doing what he's doing. He's just trying to cope the best he can with the world around him."
An estimated one in 88 children has been diagnosed with autism. Union Mill Elementary School is planning to make the program an annual event each April during Autism Awareness Month.