by Lisa Tome
Jakob Johnson has his very own chair in the office at Perryville Middle School.
And it's not because he misbehaves. Johnson, an eighth grader at the school, is an invaluable helper, according to office staff.
During the month of April he has another role. Johnson, one of nine students at the school who has Autism, is serving as a role model and mentor for others. All month, the school is spotlighting Autism because April is Autism Awareness month.
"Every homeroom did a project to kick-off Autism Awareness Month," said Perryville Middle assistant principal Holly Spangler.
Some of those projects included making puzzle pieces and writing facts that they've learned about those with Autism.
Those facts include:
• People with Autism may prefer to be alone.
• People with Autism rarely lie.
• People with Autism are less materialistic than those without Autism.
• People with Autism rarely judge others.
Spangler said it's important for all students to learn about Autism because it's becoming more prevalent. "It's been growing. Having more students (with Autism) here means that all the students here needed to learn about it," she said.
Johnson said that being in the spotlight during April has made him feel special. "Every Autism person is different," said Johnson.
He and Spangler also discussed how Johnson has grown during his years at the school.
"My reactions to things has greatly improved," he said.
The school also worked to build awareness by selling t-shirts. Nearly 130 shirts were sold.
Those shirts were made by students in the STEP career training program at Cecil's School of Technology. Some of the STEP students have Autism. They have other activities planned throughout the month.
Spangler said the event will be annual.
"It raised our awareness. The important part is to understand that it (Autism) is not cookie cutter. We need to be sensitive to that and respectful," she added.