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Self-contained classrooms help students with autism
Oakwood Elementary teacher Janna Crosby works with autistic student Reagan Floyd, 10, on a painting exercise during class Wednesday morning. The school has a classroom designed especially for its autistic students.

Reagan Floyd was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and a mild intellectual delay when she was about 2 years old.

She gets the special teaching she needs to learn how to take care of herself and educational skills, such as reading, writing and math, in one of the Hall County School System’s three self-contained classrooms for autistic students.

In 2002, Hall County schools had about 17 students who met the federal definition of autism, said Karen Schaap, the district’s autism facilitator.

The county currently has more than 200 students who meet that definition, as well as other students on the autism spectrum who are categorized differently.

Autism is defined by the advocacy organization Autism Speaks as a complex brain development disorder. The spectrum refers to the degree of the disorder’s severity.

Hall County schools give services starting in preschool until the students reach 22 years old.

The services are individualized, and some students have different types of classrooms or get extra help in other ways.

The district has more than 25,000 students enrolled in 33 schools.

“It’s from the most significantly impacted students to the very mild,” Schaap said. “It’s a very broad spectrum.”

Oakwood Elementary School, which Reagan attends, has two of the classrooms. Her mother, Jaime Floyd, said the fourth-grader is 10 years of age, but is developmentally a 3-year-old. She’s not potty-trained and communicates by quoting phrases from books, television shows and movies she likes or has memorized.

There’s about a dozen children in her class.

“We do individual reading, writing, some very basic math skills,” said Janna Crosby, Reagan’s teacher. “We also work on social interactions and appropriate behaviors, and then leisure skills.”

The kid have folders with pictures that show their daily schedules.

“They’re very visual learners,” Crosby said.

Crosby said she is a certified special education teacher trained in applied behavior analysis methods. The district contracts with board-certified behavior specialists to train teachers and teacher’s aides, known as paraprofessionals, Schaap said.

“We use those kind of techniques in other classrooms, too,” she said.

Crosby uses a token system and positive reinforcement to encourage certain behavior and motivate her students.

Floyd said her daughter Reagan has greatly improved her behavior and coping skills from when she was younger because of what’s she’s learned in school. Reagan had some violent behavior, including biting.

Floyd’s goals for Reagan include being able to read and write and function in society, she said.

Floyd said she was told that Reagan may not age mentally beyond 10 years old. She cried when she was first told that, but now she says she’d take it.

“I’d be happy to have that because she’s 3,” the mother said. “She’s in a 10-year-old body and she’s 3. Yeah, I’ll take a 10-year-old.”

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