Health Team

Student with autism thrives in mainstream classroom

Posted October 7, 2011

A diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder brings with it many difficult challenges, including the need for parents to find the best school situation for their child.

For 7-year-old Declan Powell, the perfect classroom is Marsha Souza's first grade class at Cresset Christian Academy in Durham. There Declan, who has autism, attends school with his brother, Kieran, 6.

"I just teach like I would normally teach," Souza says. Kieran serves as Declan's "shadow" helper.

"That makes it possible for me to help the other children, because he does need one-on-one attention all day," Souza says.

The boys' mother, Kerrie Powell, said the family tried putting Declan in a special classroom. "He was in what's called an Autism Contained Classroom where he was one student with five other little boys. He was the only verbal one," she said.

Mainstream classroom is best for this boy Mainstream classroom is best for this boy

She was convinced the answer for Declan was "inclusion" -- a class with typically developing children, with special assistance. The Powells convinced Cresset Christian Academy to take a chance on Declan. So far, he's proven that with a little patience from others, he fits right in.

"When he has an overload, and he just has had enough of instruction, we let him take a break," his teacher said.

He also has his brother nearby. "Kieran has a larger-than-life personality," his mother says. "I always refer to him as the best therapist we never paid."

Declan's mom admits inclusion isn't the solution for every child with autism, but she thinks more schools should offer the option for those who could benefit.

"That's the tough thing. Autism really comes down to personalized medicine," Kerrie Powell says. "I think it becomes very specific to your child."

The Powell family will be among the participants Saturday in the Triangle Run/Walk for Autism in downtown Raleigh. They will join more than 100 members of "Team Declan" in Moore Square at 9 a.m. for the event, the 13th annual fundraiser for the Autism Society of North Carolina.


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  • lettered olive Oct 14, 2011

    The self-contained autism classrooms do not teach the standard course of study (SCOS). So the only way for our mildly or high functioning kids with autism to get an education that will put them on the track to GRADUATE one day, is to be mainstreamed. There's no self-contained classroom in Wake Co. that offers SCOS. That is in part why many parents want their kids mainstreamed, so they can get the same education as everyone else. If you have autism you are either fully mainstreamed OR in a separate classroom for the entire day, OR you have to be able to spend at least 40% of your day in a regular classroom, and the rest of the time in a resource room. Those who can't meet that 40% are in the separate classroom. Doesn't matter how bright they are, how advanced they are academically...they are not getting SCOS. So, if Wake Co. can FIX this, then I for one would be ok with my autistic son being in a separate classroom. He'd get the education he is capable of no matter where he is.

  • timbo10.0 Oct 14, 2011

    "so before you start judgeing kids with disabilties you should walk a mile in our shoes." - lj3angles

    I'm not judging them. I'm stating facts. Mainstreaming non-high functioning children with disabilities may help the child with the disabilities, but it hinders other students from learning. That's a fact. My child should not have to suffer through a disabled child slowing the class down to the point that my child is not learning to his/her potential.

  • wildcat Oct 13, 2011

    What an inspiring story. I have autistic twins in my family and we all love them and they are a joy. They are smart. On is a boy and the other is a girl. Mother is a single parent. So you know her work load is heavy. Keep her and the twins in your prayers.

  • kpow98 Oct 13, 2011

    Inclusion is just one the tools we have used to take on autism. Declan is on a restricted diet, gluten and casein-free. We do this because it works for us, but I know it has not worked for many other people. That is the challenge with autism- each child has different challenges and responds differently to treatments. You have to find and fight for what is best for your child. Declan's brother is not his shadow in the class, as was written in the story. We have a team of shadows that rotate working with Declan. Yes, we have OT and speech therapy. We have tried many things, that is our job as parents, to find what we can do for our children so that they may reach their potential. Inclusion, I believe, would not work for every child or every school. It is all about having choices. To be certain, as a parent with a typically developing child in the same classroom we would never compromise the ability of the other children to learn...we just happen to believe that teaching children to be go

  • wisabear70 Oct 13, 2011

    @shadow213- yes he has a "shadow" or helper when he is in his mainstream classes.

  • Pseudonym Oct 12, 2011

    Quote from Southern Gal: "It would be helpful if you could specifically name just 2-3 items to remove from the diet which you have found helpful for your child. Thanks"

    Start with anything that has red 40 in it: FD&C Red 40, Red 40 Lake, even caramel color. Google red 40 and the first hit will be a website advocating banning it.

  • Shadow213 Oct 12, 2011

    Is there an occupational therapist to help him out during class sometimes? I think it's great he's in a class with his brother, but I wonder if relying on the brother to provide help when the teacher can't is always the best thing for the brother...

  • lj3angles Oct 12, 2011

    I appulade the school for taking a chance and wish other schools couls learn and follow from their example. I wish this little man the best of luck and my hats go off to his parents for fighting for him. As a parent with a child with autism I see so many parents just give up and be rail roaded by the system.

  • lj3angles Oct 12, 2011

    @timbo.10.0 I think that your comment is very ignorant. no matter the disability every child derserves the the best eduction possible, and If you had a promblem with this you should have removed your child from the class. we can learn alot from children with disabilities. the comment you made about wishing her child was normal shows just how ingorant people can be. I have a son how is austic and I love him just the same and just how do you define normal because in some way or another everyone is diffrent and maybe to this child your kid was not normal. so before you start judgeing kids with disabilties you should walk a mile in our shoes.

  • Southern Gal Oct 12, 2011

    To: Pseudonym... "parents would be wise to experiment with his diet, including cutting out foods with artificial dyes and glutens".

    My child is high-functioning autistic, too.
    It would be helpful if you could specifically name
    just 2-3 items to remove from the diet which you have found helpful for your child. Thanks!