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A special class for children with autism

  • Pictured are Travis Curtis, an Education Specialist teacher, for the John Reed Autism classroom; Madison Ladno, a student in the Autism classroom, her father, Duane Ladno, a detective with the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety and Claudia Smith of the Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati. The occasion was a check for $1,000 presented by the Rotary Club of Rancho Cotati to the special classroom. Photo by Jane Peleti

By: Irene Hilsendager
January 25, 2019

 Autism is a spectrum disorder that is related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication.

Detective Duane Ladno of the Rohnert Park Department of Public Safety gave a rousing speech on autism because this subject is very near and dear to his heart. Madison, his daughter, is such a child that goes to the special class for autistic children at the John Reed School. She is a bright and happy young lady that makes friends very easily, wants hugs to a certain degree and amazingly has a photographic memory. Madison’s sun rises and sets on her daddy and since Detective Ladno has been trained in mental health, he certainly understands the meltdowns that Madison has at times. Ladno came from Novato and has been an officer for 12 years and is a trained intervention officer. 

Some background facts will help you to understand autism a little better. Some children show signs of autism spectrum disorder in early infancy, such as reduced eye contact, lack of response to their names or indifference to caregivers. Other children may develop normally for the first few months or years of life, but then suddenly becomes withdrawn or aggressive or lose language skills they have already acquired. Signs usually are seen by age two. Madison doesn’t seem to have very few of the mentioned signs. 

Some children with autism have certain patterns of behavior. Many will perform repetitive movements, rocking; some will become disturbed when routines are changed are fascinated by certain objects, usually sensitive to light and sound and eats only a few food or refusing foods with different textures.

One of the greatest controversies in autism spectrum disorder centers on whether a link exists between the disorder and childhood vaccines. Despite extensive research, no reliable study has shown a link between autism spectrum disorder and any vaccines.

The number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder is rising. It is not clear whether this is due to better detection and reporting or a real increase in the number of cases or both.

 Ladno said that more males are affected than females. Autism spectrum disorder affects children of all races and nationalities, but certain factors increases a child’s risk. The Center for Disease Center says one out of sixty-eight children within the United States is autistic.  Babies born before 26 weeks of gestation may have a greater risk of autism spectrum disorder. There is no way to prevent autism spectrum disorder, but there are treatment options. Early diagnosis and intervention is most helpful.

John Reed classes for autistic children are very fortunate to have a caring and highly educated teacher by the name of Travis Curtis and known as Mr. Curtis in the classroom. He studied Philosophy and Theology at Biola University in La Mirada, Ca. and is currently getting his Mild/Moderate Special Education Credential through the North Coast School of Education through the Sonoma County Office of Education. Curtis worked residential treatment for at-risk high school boys for ten years. He is also married to a fantastic woman named Rachel and is blessed with an 18-month old son named Wesley. Ironically they have a dog named Chicken so Wesley is very confused when they are teaching him the different animals.

Travis began the year at school with seven students but now they have increased to ten. Currently the Cotati-Rohnert Park School District has approximately 865 students with IEP’s district wide. There are 150 children qualified for special education under autism. Fifty-seven are at elementary level, 26 at the middle school level and 23 at the high school level.

Special education follows individuals with disabilities education act or IDEA. Students have to qualify for special education based on an assessment and the eligibility criteria for autism. This is different from the medical diagnosis criteria which is in the DSM-V. There are many students in the district who are diagnosed with autism but do not qualify for special education. However, many students with autism require more intensive supports to access their education and make meaningful progress.

The district provides a spectrum of services for students with autism and are always trying to create individualized programs. Curtis has two or three aides, who are trained in positive behavioral support strategies and on evidence-based practices for students on the spectrum, depending on the student’s needs. The class is a mixture of grades three through five and primarily students with autism but it is not limited to only students on the spectrum as these strategies also work for other students.