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District, safety personnel facilitating positive outcomes

PITTSBORO — Pittsboro Police Department Sgt. Edwin Swain couldn’t get focused. Siler City Elementary School administrative intern Kristen Breedlove was patting him on the head. Pittsboro Police Cpl. Delanie Womack District educators (left to right) Kristen Breedlove and Tania Poston train with Pittsboro Police Department officers. was flicking him with a notecard. And in the vast multipurpose room at Horton Middle School where other folks’ voices were bouncing off the walls earlier this month, Swain was supposed to make sense of a kiddie passage about a parade of boats that Siler City Elementary Assistant Principal Tania Poston was reading. 

“It was pretty hard for me to comprehend that,” Swain said. “It was pretty much like, ‘Something-something boat.’ That’s what I was hearing.”

That’s what some students with autism hear when they’re trying to learn, explained Jennette Horton, an instructional program facilitator in the Chatham County Schools Exceptional Children (EC) Department. 

The reason Horton and her EC colleagues assembled Swain, Womack Melvin Diggs and other Chatham County safety personnel was to facilitate positive outcomes when they encounter individuals with disabilities on school campuses and in the community, said Melvin Diggs, the executive director of the school system’s EC department. 

Students with autism can learn and otherwise function in mainstream settings, Horton said. But sometimes they can’t focus long enough to sufficiently process information in environments impeded by auditory layers and other sensory distractions, she said.

“It has nothing to do with intellectual abilities,” Horton said. 

Consider the hum of a projector: While most students can tune out that noise, some with autism would not be able to stop hearing it, Horton said. Combine that with classmates typing on computers, plus the buzz of multiple conversations during group work, amplified by the kid who keeps tap-tap-tapping his or her pencil. 

Chatham County Schools instructional program facilitator works with safety personnel during a training session. “It just becomes overstimulating,” Horton said. 

Safety personnel at the EC outreach also included representatives from the Chatham County Sheriff’s Office, the Bonlee Fire Department, Chatham County Emergency Management and the North Chatham Volunteer Fire Department. Salita Callicutt, who works with students in the school system who are hearing impaired, taught a little sign language, demonstrating hand movements to instruct individuals, for example, to stop or calm down. 

“This will help me on any given day,” Swain said. “This will help me every day, because you don’t know when you’re going to run into situations when you have to talk to somebody that has a disability, somebody that has autism, somebody that’s deaf, hearing impaired.”

Sara Self, an instructional program facilitator who organized the outreach, said she is coordinating another one for the general public.

Published Oct. 22, 2019