Local News

Autistic Children Make National Marks

Posted March 30, 1998

— A county report card shows that Cumberland County falls well below the state average for student spending and SAT scores.

However, one county program for children with special needs holds a national reputation for being well above average.

120 autistic children currently attend Cumberland County Schools. Some of those students take special classes, while others stay in the mainstream setting.

As the program for autistic children continues to gain notoriety, many families are moving to Fayetteville just to go to the schools.

15-year-old Charlie Routh loves computers like other children his age; however, autism makes school more difficult for him.

Charlie is in a regular classroom because of an autistic resource teacher at SouthView High school in Hope Mills.

"She helps me with my subjects I have trouble with, and whenever I need help or something I ask her," Charlie said.

Cumberland County Resource teachers like Charlie's receive special training through Teacch, which is a unique UNC program with a national reputation. This program brings many parents with autistic children to North Carolina, and particularly Cumberland County.

The number of autistic students in the county jumped 220 percent in recent years.

The Director of the Exceptional Children's Program Dr. James McKethan said, "The reputation we have is because of the school / community approach to serving children with autisim and then apart of that is the military network."

Military parents of autistic children will often choose Fort Bragg, in order to live close to Cumberland's autism program.

The support extends after the school day with a support group for parents. Charlie's mother said that she gets the help she needs, and Charlie is getting the extra attention he deserves.

"We have an excellent resource teacher, teachers that care. I really couldn't pinpoint why it works, I just know it does work," Pat Routh said.

In some ways the program is too successful, and parents would like to see more staff, more training and more money. Dr. McKethan requested a three million dollar increase in the exceptional children's program to meet some of those needs.


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