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Autistic student takes the lead in raising awareness

Published: Wednesday, April 12, 2017 12:33 p.m. CDT • Updated: Thursday, April 13, 2017 9:10 p.m. CDT

MURRAY — Self-advocacy is an important step for autistic people in gaining the understanding and services needed to live fulfilling lives. It’s a journey many individuals don’t begin until well past graduation. With the help of family and teachers at Murray School, one student is starting the process early.

Friday, April 7, fifth grader Hayden Halverson held his second-annual bake sale in an effort to raise autism awareness and funds for future research.

Halverson, son of Joe and Darcy Halverson of Murray, is a low-functioning autistic student, currently the only one at the school with the diagnosis, according to his special education teacher Debbie Aldrich. This is the second year Halverson has held the bake sale during April for Autism Awareness Month.

“While Hayden is a fifth-grade student, his abilities are not the same as his same-aged peers. At school, aside from working with numbers, letters, colors and shapes, Hayden does a lot of work on learning to request his needs and wants and communicating with a communication device,” said Aldrich. “Hayden also does a lot of work with life skills, including learning signs in public, how to purchase items at a store, household chores and job tasks.”

According to national resource and support network Autism Now, the autism spectrum includes a range of neurodevelopmental disorders which lead to challenges in verbal and non-verbal communication and social interaction. These disorders often manifest as rigid, repetitive interests, behaviors and activities.

Autistic individuals also have higher rates of developmental delays, sensory disorders, gastrointestinal problems, seizures, sleeping disorders, depression and anxiety. Symptoms vary widely among people on the spectrum, posing a unique challenge to awareness programs.

Combined, these issues can make it very difficult for autistic people to make and maintain friendships or take part in activities.

“We use a curriculum with Hayden called Unique Learning Systems. One of the units included holding a cookie sale. The lessons provided skills needed for baking the cookies – adapted recipes, how to advertise for the sale, and counting coins when selling the cookies,” said Aldrich. “So, at school, we – Hayden's one-to-one paraprofessional, Shelley West, Hayden and myself – followed the adapted recipes to make the cookies, and sold them later that week after posting his fliers.”

The bake sale, largely held for school students and personnel, sold out within a few minutes last year, so the team planned on baking even more this year. Hy-Vee donated funds to help cover the additional costs.

“Last year, Hayden raised just under $60 from his cookies and donations that people made to him and the proceeds were sent to Autism Speaks in care of his name,” said Aldrich.

This year?

“Hayden's sale went great,” said Aldrich. “Hayden raised $268.00, so he did much better this year.”

The bake sale is an important demonstration of the ability for autistic people to live independent, inclusive, productive lives as part of their communities. Plus, it's providing him with a way he can raise funds for research that will improve quality of life for all autistic people.

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