CHESTERFIELD, Mo. (AP) — Three 11-year-olds in a suburban St. Louis school district are reaching out to their peers with autism.
Kevin Schuller, Taylor Baxter and Emily Oster are just preparing to enter middle school in the Rockwood School District, but the program they created, REACH, is already being used in two grade schools in the west St. Louis County district.
Now, the students want to expand the program district-wide, the Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis reported Wednesday (http://bit.ly/MjlpPZ ).
The trio started the program while at Uthoff Valley Elementary School in February. Kevin was diagnosed in third grade with Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, fine motor skill problems and sensitivity to noise.
Taylor and Emily worked with Kevin to form REACH — Road to Embrace Autism with Care and Heart — with the goal of helping kids with different abilities fit in.
"I've been bullied and teased by kids who didn't understand me," Kevin said. "As part of the presentation, I read a book to the class on what it feels like to have Asperger's syndrome."
Taylor noticed last year that Kevin sometimes acted in ways she didn't understand. Her mother gave her a book about autism to help her better understand. Now, she said she looks forward to educating friends about "why some kids might act a little different."
At the two elementary schools where the program is already in place, students learn through the REACH program how distractions like fire drills and unstructured time like recess and lunch can be hard for kids with autism. They're also encouraged to include those with different abilities in their activities, Emily said.
"For instance, though he didn't want to be on the field, Kevin has helped us play kickball by being a referee," Emily said.
Kevin said he has already seen the positive benefits of the program.
"I had been upset a lot, it was hard to finish school work, and I didn't even want to go to recess for a while," he said. "But with REACH, kids began to understand and treat me better. REACH does work and can prevent bullying."
School board president Janet Strate said there could be room for REACH district-wide, though no decision has been made.
"We have a great character ed program, and we may be able to incorporate some of their ideas into that existing program," she said.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com