Weather Forecast


Prairie Elementary hopes to offer boost for autism research

WORTHINGTON -- Six staff members from Prairie Elementary have banded together to fight autism and raise money for research into autism spectrum disorders.

"The goal for Autism Speaks is to change the future of all who struggle with autism," said Amy Ebbers, who teaches students with disorders on the autism spectrum at Prairie.

Ebbers will lead a group of five paraprofessionals in the Walk Now for Autism Speaks on June 11 in Sioux Falls, S.D. Money the group raises will go to the South Dakota branch of Autism Speaks, but because many local students go to Sioux Falls for their medical needs, it will benefit Minnesotans as well.

"They are collecting money for research and some programs to help the families, and a lot of it is to help with awareness too," Ebbers explained.

Four of the paraprofessionals on Amy's Crew work specifically with students who have autism spectrum disorders.

They are Lyn Hennings, Sue Bents, Melissa Elsing and Sara VandenBosch. The other paraprofessional, Sarah Martin, works with students with emotional and behavioral disorders.

The crew has already raised about $500 for the walk by simply asking people to help, and through a mass e-mail to Prairie staff. Both methods of fundraising garnered positive responses from staff members.

"They know it's worthy. They know the numbers (of students with autism) are increasing in this building alone," Ebbers said.

How much the incidence of autism is increasing is a matter of hot debate in the scientific community, but whether it is becoming more common or its diagnosis is becoming more common, a child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes.

Students with autism spectrum disorders have difficulty with social interactions and in communicating with other people. Anything that can cause brain damage can cause autism, Ebbers said.

"It affects how the kids see the world. They don't see it like we do," Ebbers explained. "They don't see social cues like a regular student does. They don't read facial expressions like we do. Interaction is tough for them. It's easier for them to just stay in their own little world."

Twenty students with autism spectrum disorders will attend Prairie Elementary next year. Some will be integrated totally into the classroom, and others will be supervised by teachers and paraprofessionals for part of their school days. Many of them will work on behavior modification, learn to read facial expressions and connect them with emotions, and respond to social situations most people understand without having to consciously think about it.

"(Working with autism spectrum disorder students) is always rewarding, because you can see the changes they make, but there are some struggles, too," Ebbers said. "Sometimes the gate is open and you can work with them, and sometimes it's not."

To donate to Amy's Crew, visit and click on Support a Walker. Type in one of the walkers' names and click donate.