Seaside sand modelling, rainbow mufti dress and sharing different classrooms – these were some of the highlights of a World Autism Awareness Day celebration at Ss Peter and Paul Parish Primary School Kiama.
The annual awareness day, celebrated on 2 April, aims to increase understanding and acceptance of people with autism, foster universal support and inspire a more inclusive world. This year’s theme for the day, ‘Lead with Kindness’, was reflected in the school’s activities.
Joined by Aspect South Coast School, a primary satellite unit hosted by Ss Peter and Paul, students participated in a range of activities, including an ‘autism mindfulness art activity’ where children worked as a team to decorate rainbows, a common symbol used to represent the autism spectrum.
Year One teacher, Kathryn Boniface, said the Aspect classes were considered part of the Ss Peter and Paul school community, despite being managed independently.
“Students from Aspect regularly participate in our school events,” she said. “Everything from assemblies, buddy time and cross country, to music, physical education and art lessons.”
Along with fellow Ss Peter and Paul teachers Cara Lawson (Stage 2) and Sarah Lafrance (Stage 3), Mrs Boniface organised the day together with the school’s Student Support Team, a formal leadership group made up of Stage 3 students that encourages students to follow Jesus’ model of servant leadership by putting their own needs aside to meet the needs of others.
“Having previously organised this day myself with Aspect, we felt it was an ideal opportunity for the student-led team to take ownership,” said Mrs Boniface. “Students Kartik, Izack, Ana, Hamish, Jonathon, and Finley organised the decoration of the school’s entrance, the buddy activity, and assisted with the timetabling of classroom visits.”
During the morning, Aspect students visited K-2 classrooms and participated in lessons. Afterwards, students from Ss Peter and Paul visited Aspect to experience a lesson in their classrooms. The idea was to experience a 'lesson in the life' of students from both school environments.
The Student Support Team interviewed students who attended the Aspect classroom visits to find out what they learnt.
What the students said:
It felt very calm, quiet, and even darker in the Aspect classroom. We made self-portraits with Mr Tully using lead pencils. The students enjoyed having us there. Jesse was really talented at drawing. – Max, Year 6 student
The teachers were all friendly, they were really nice to us and definitely knew what they were doing. They were very patient and gave the kids options of things to do to calm themselves if they got overwhelmed. They are even allowed to have their shoes off! – Eloise, Year 5 student
The experience was fun. They were doing very similar work to us but in a different, quieter space. I thought it was really nice to know and see what they do every day and how they learn because we only see the students in the playground. – Violet, Year 4 student
Toni Howard, a Professional Officer - Special Education at the Catholic Education Office, is the contact between Aspect and Ss Peter and Paul.
“Many of the families have lived experiences of autism,” said Mrs Howard. “World Autism Awareness Day is a great opportunity to consider the way we can appreciate and learn from neurodiversity.”