Past winners of the “FRIEND OF AUTISM AWARD”

2010

Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss from the Phoenix School District. Their nomination follows:

I have the perfect pair to receive your award!  They refer to themselves as the “dynamic duo” and the kids will tell you the same!  Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss are very deserving of this award.  In my opinion, they exemplify educators who are willing to go above and beyond to meet the needs of our students on the autism spectrum.

As with all districts, our number of students on the spectrum has been on the rise over the last few years.  While we were seeing an increase in the overall number, we were also seeing an increase in Asperger’s Syndrome.  These students are different than our students with autism.  They are higher functioning and needed a different kind of instruction and support to survive in middle school.  As a building, we decided to try teaching a specific class on social skills.  This was a trial year and we selected a special education teacher and a special education teaching assistant to create a new program for these students.  Boy did we pick the right team!  They spend countless hours searching through articles, books, and websites and created a program focusing on the social skills that our kids would need to learn.

I am not sure who loves the social skills class more…the students or the teachers teaching it!  We were nervous as to how these students would interact with each other.  We have students ranging from 5th grade to 8th grade grouped together.  While we the adults were nervous, the kids walked in and instantly became a family.  They truly “get” each other and are a wonderful support for one another.  As they learn skills, they also reinforce those skills and remind each other to use them.  It is truly wonderful to see.

In addition to working with the students, Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss have gone above and beyond and hold a monthly support dinner for our families.  They have arranged for our families to come after school and share dinner and stories.  It has become a close network for our parents and they have been able to share resources, thoughts and ideas.  It has become a wonderful opportunity for our families to support each other as well as gain trust with the school staff that are working with their children every day.  Since this was the first year of this “new” program, we had parents who were hesitant.  I am pleased to report that our last dinner, one skeptical parent reported that this is the best year her daughter has ever had.

With permission from the parents, Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss also dealt with the sensitive topics of what it means to have autism.  The students had mixed reactions.  They started the lesson by showing a picture of several students and discussing differences on the outside as well as differences on the inside.  They proceeded by showing a slideshow of famous people with autism.  They found that some students were aware that they have autism and other students denied it.  Some were upset that their parents never told them.  Sandy  and Laurie  approached it in a sensitive and compassionate manner and were able to explore the topic with their students.  Now you hear the students telling people they meet that they have Asperger’s as they laugh about how funny that word is.

If I were a student, I would love to be in their classroom.  They are energetic, dedicated people who truly care about their kids.  They have the right combination of humor, happiness, and real world advice that our students need.  They are able to connect with students and families and have become excellent advocates in driving programs for our building.

Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss are the perfect pair for teaching, for our students with autism and for your “Friend of Autism” award.  They are role models for excellence in teaching, enthusiasm for students, and doing what you love.  No matter the day or the circumstance, you can see the smile on their face, hear the humor in the voice, and sense the compassion in their hearts.  They make a difference in our kids’ lives every single day.  They are certainly deserving of this award and much, much more.

Thank you for your time and consideration.  If you would like additional information, please do not hesitate to contact me.  It would be wonderful to see Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss recognized for all that they do.

Pictured is Theresa Familo of OCATF presenting the award to Sue Squires.  Ms. Squires is accepting the award for Sandy Silky and Laurie Doss who were not able to be present.

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2009

Linda Stummer, Special Education teacher of the Oswego City School District.