North Penn Special EDition

Volume 1, Issue 2
April 2015
In This Issue


Fast Facts on Autism

From the Autism Speaks website



 1. Autism's prevalence has skyrocketed. 

Ten years ago, autism's estimated prevalence was 1 in 166. Today it's 1 in 68 - an increase of more than 100%  in one decade.


2. Direct screening suggests that autism's prevalence may be even higher.

In a landmark study funded by Autism Speaks, screeners went into schools in South Korea and found 1 in 38 children affected by autism, most of them previously undiagnosed. Autism Speaks is now working with  the CDC to conduct a similar direct-screening study in the United States.  


3. Autism can be reliably diagnosed by age two.


4. High-quality early intervention does more than develop skills.

Early intervention can  change underlying brain development and activity. It's also cost effective as it reduces the need for educational and behavioral support in grade school and beyond.


5. Behavioral therapy for autism can transform lives.

Though children with  autism vary in how far they progress with  behavioral therapy, we now have solid evidence of its benefits.  


6.One third of children and adults with autism are nonverbal.



7. Assistive communication devices encourage speech in some nonverbal children.

An Autism Speaks-funded study dispelled the belief that nonverbal children with autism who don't speak by age 5 will remain nonverbal for life.


8. Autism-related GI disorders are real.

Research revealed that half of children with autism have GI disorders and the pain can  worsen behavioral symptoms.  


9. Autism-related sleep disturbance is common and treatable.

Evidence-based medical guidelines and tool kits are now in place to help parents improve the sleep of those with  autism.


10. As many as one third of individuals with autism have epilepsy.

The potentially dangerous seizures are not always obvious without specialized testing.


11. Autism can affect the whole body.

Seizures, disturbed sleep and painful GI disorders are just  some of the medical conditions commonly associated with autism.


12. Whole genome sequencing can guide personalized treatment.

 Already, this  work  is producing medically valuable information and identifying targets for the development of new autism medicines.


13. Environmental factors can play a significant role.

Experts once believed that autism was almost entirely hereditary. Then research with families participating in the Autism Speaks Autism Genetic Resource Exchange showed that non-inherited influences on early brain development account for nearly half  of a child's risk for developing autism.


14. Environmental risk factors include maternal infection and high exposure to air pollution during pregnancy. Prenatal vitamins with  folic acid can  reduce the risk of autism if taken before conception and through pregnancy.



15. Nearly half of those with autism wander or bolt.

Autism Speaks has taken the lead in promoting wandering prevention and recovery through the funding of programs that increase awareness, train first responders and teach water safety.


16. Nearly two-thirds of children with autism have been bullied.

Autism Speaks has partnered with  the National Center for Learning Disabilities and others to raise awareness and combat bullying of special-needs individuals.


17. Most adults with autism (84%) remain living with their parents.

Organizations are advocating for federal and state policies that will increase community living options for adults with autism.


18. Nearly half of 25-year-olds with autism have never held a paying job.

Autism organizations are working to increase vocational and post-secondary educational support for young adults with  autism,  to expand job opportunities.


19. Each year, an estimated 50,000 teens with autism age out of school-based autism services.

Support is needed for these individuals to successfully transition into adulthood and become valued and valuable members of their communities.


20. The cost of autism across a lifetime averages $1.4 million to $2.4 million.

These costs, which increase with  intellectual disability, place a tremendous burden on  families and society, but can  be dramatically reduced with high-quality interventions and adult transition support.

21.  Early intervention helps one in fourteen toddlers overcome symptoms of autism.  While the diagnosis never "goes away," early intervention is critical in improving management of symptoms.

22.  With the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5 diagnostic manual, all autism disorders were merged into one umbrella diagnosis of ASD. Previously, they were recognized as distinct subtypes, including autistic disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger syndrome.

23. Each individual with autism is unique. Many of those on the autism spectrum have exceptional abilities in visual skills, music and academic skills. About 40 percent have average to above average intellectual abilities. Indeed, many persons on the spectrum take deserved pride in their distinctive abilities and "atypical" ways of viewing the world.


Director's Corner: 
Supporting Our Students with Autism   


It's been said that if you know one person with know one person with autism.  A spectrum disorder, autism varies widely in the degree and severity of symptoms among individuals.  However, common features of the disorder include difficulties with communication, social interactions, and repetitive behaviors.  As April is Autism Awareness Month, now is a good time to reflect on our practices for students with autism. 


Current statistics indicate that 1 in 68 children have autism.  Here in North Penn, nearly 12% of our students with Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) are identified as having the disorder.  Although just a few short years ago there were no known causes for autism, research is beginning to identify certain genetic predispositions and environmental factors that may increase its likelihood. 


This issue of the North Penn Special EDition is packed with information on autism and strategies to support our students with this disorder in the  classroom.  I hope you find these pieces helpful in your daily work.



Jenna Mancini Rufo
Director of Special Education and Student Services      


NPHS Student Shares Experience with Autism on NPTV Morning Show
Ben Hartranft, 10th grade student at North Penn High School, is a regular crew member of the NPTV Morning Show.  For Autism Awareness month, Ben decided the most effective way to spread the message about autism was to share his firsthand account of living with the disorder.  Click
Ben Hartranft is interviewed by Mr. Kevin Manero about Autism Awareness on the NPHS Morning Show.
Top Ten Strategies

Jessica Klein, Autistic Support Teacher at Montgomery, shares her top ten strategies for working with students with autism. 


10. Post a daily schedule in your classroom. Make sure you warn the

      student of any changes in the schedule or routine.

9.  Be literal, do not expect the student to "read between the lines".

8.  Give opportunities for movement throughout the classroom day

     (energizers, classroom helper, 

          Click here for the complete list!


Jessica has been teaching Autism Support at Montgomery Elementary for 7 years.  In her spare time, she enjoys running, shopping, cheering on Notre Dame football and spending time with her friends and family.  She is currently taking coursework to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst. Jessica believes that working with students with Autism has changed her life.  Each day is different and her students always inspire her by the progress and growth they make.  She believes that everyone should work together to facilitate life-long learning in these students and encourage them to strive to be the best they can be. 

Talking to Kids About Autism
Jamie Pitetti
Autistic Support Teacher, Knapp

Jamie has compiled some talking points when discussing autism with children:


Autism is not contagious. If you play with someone who has autism you will not get autism.   

People with autism may act or think differently because they see the world in a different way.


People with autism may scream, run away, or hurt someone if they are confused,mad, or feeling bad. They are not trying to be bad or mean.  


Read on for more tips...

How Did North Penn Celebrate Autism Awareness Month?

Many schools across the district engaged in special activities to celebrate Autism Awareness month.  Click here to learn what Knapp and Kulp Elementary did. 
Big Buddy, Little Buddy
Sara Pileggi, Autistic Support Teacher, Hatfield

Moving an entire school to a temporary location during renovations is not always an ideal situation. However, I decided to make the most of this move and start a buddy program pairing up middle school students with the students in the Hatfield autism support program. I partnered with Pennfield school counselor, Tim McCloud, to gather a group of  dedicated and enthusiastic students who would participate in activities with the Hatfield Autistic Support class one study hall period per cycle. Thus, the Big Buddy Little Buddy program was born!   Read more.


Autism Statistics, Frequency, and Causes
From the Autism Speaks website:

"Autism statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identify around 1 in 68 American children as on the autism spectrum-a ten-fold increase in prevalence in 40 years. Careful research shows that this increase is only partly explained by improved diagnosis and awareness. Studies also show that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. An estimated 1 out of 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States.

ASD affects over 3 million individuals in the U.S. and tens of millions worldwide. Moreover, government autism statistics suggest that prevalence rates have increased 10 to 17 percent annually in recent years. There is no established explanation for this continuing increase, although improved diagnosis and environmental influences are two reasons often considered.  Read more at Autism Speaks. 
What Do I Do if I Suspect My Child
Has Autism?

From the Autism Speaks website: 

The following "red flags" may indicate your child is at risk for an autism spectrum disorder. If your child exhibits any of the following, please don't delay in asking your pediatrician or family doctor for an evaluation:

  • No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
  • No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
  • No babbling by 12 months
  • No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
  • No words by 16 months
  • No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
  • Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age


Occupational Therapy Awareness
Cindy Keating, Occupational Therapist, Hatfield
Kristen Posner, Occupational Therapist, Bridle Path


In addition to Autism Awareness, April is also Occupational Therapy Awareness month.  So just what is occupational therapy???  A child's life is made up of "occupations," or daily activities. These occupations include playing, learning, and socializing. Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession where practitioners work with children and their families to help them succeed in these activities throughout the day. Read more...



Professional Growth and Recognition


Who are these lovely ladies? Megan Marnien, Vision Support Teacher, and Melissa Hall, Hearing Support Teacher - that's who!

Megan Marnien, Vision Support Teacher, and Melissa Hall, Hearing Support Teacher, recently completed coursework for their Assistive Technology Certificates from Bowling Green State University's on-line graduate school.  Knowledge of assistive technologies is critical to their work with our students who have sensory impairments. We commend Melissa and Megan on developing themselves professionally. 

Megan is to receive additional recognition for her work, along with Occupational Therapist, Jennifer Johnson.  The Federation of American Consumers and Travels (FACT)  issued a $2500 grant to purchase low vision devices, software and additional materials to enhance the learning of visually impaired students in the North Penn School District. Megan and Jen wrote a proposal for the grant following the nomination from a North Penn family they both serve. Megan and Jen note that they are very thankful and pleased to have been selected and look forward to using these funds to better service students with visual impairments throughout the district.

Joe Iannello,
Learning Support Teacher at North Penn High School, received his Masters degree in Classroom Technology and earned his Masters +15 in Anti-Bullying Awareness.  Joe was also recognized by the Newsela Reading website for being part of a pilot program and incorporating Newsela resources into his curriculum for post-12 students. Post-12 students are students with disabilities who require additional support beyond their 12th grade year.  These students are entitled to receive services through the school year in which they turn 21. Way to go, Joe!

Cookie McGowan, Special Education Assistant at Penndale, recently received the Lifetime Achievement Award for cheerleading coaches. Cookie was specifically recognized for her work with the NPHS Dream Catchers, a group of students with disabilities who were included on the cheerleading squad.  Cookie was surprised with the award when she traveled to Florida

                                                           to judge All Star Internationals.
Cookie McGowan (center) with cheerleaders and coaches she met in the United Kingdom.
She was honored for her passion  for the sport, innovation, and making a difference in the lives of athletes and their communities. Recently, Cookie judged University and All Star Athletes in the United Kingdom.  While in the UK, Cookie presented at a conference on how to effectively include students with disabilities in cheerleading.  We are so very proud of Cookie!



Kristen Posner, Occupational Therapist at Bridle Path Elementary, is now officially a doctor! Kristen will be graduating this May with her doctorate in occupational therapy.  Her evidence-based practice project was entitled, "Integrative Occupational Therapy within General Education" and incorporated pre and post intervention assessment of 17 general education teachers following integrative therapy. The project results were found to positively influence teachers' perceptions of collaboration, therapy contribution to student success in the classroom, knowledge of school-based OT, the incorporation of environmental modifications and strategies, and support for all students, even those not receiving direct OT. Kristen wishes to express her gratitude to the Bridle Path staff, principal, supervisor, and district administration for being so supportive of her throughout this process.  She will be writing an article for peer review publication within an OT or educational journal this summer, as this is very relevant to current trends in school-based services.  Congratulations to Kristen on this exceptional achievement!


Cara Weinberg, Learning Support Teacher at York Avenue, is currently enrolled in the Educational Leadership program at Arcadia University to earn a second masters degree and her certification as a special education supervisor and principal.  As part of her internship, Cara worked with the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit on expanding their partial hospitalization program, Explorations PHP, to serve elementary students.  Great work, Cara! 


What an impressive group of educators!!! 


News and Notes

Sarah Shipley, School Psychologist at Montgomery, is absolutely thrilled to announce that William "Liam" Thompson Shipley made his grand entranceinto the world on Friday, April 17th, 2015 at 5:30pm. He was 6 lbs 7 ounces and 19 inches long.