Carden Country School raises money, awareness for autism

While blindfolded, Carden Country School students place their hands in a bowl of peeled grapes. - Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review
While blindfolded, Carden Country School students place their hands in a bowl of peeled grapes.
— image credit: Richard D. Oxley / Bainbridge Island Review

The Carden Country School humbly sits on a farm in the center of the island. With a mere 40 students, one might not think that such a small school could have a significant impact — and one would be wrong.

This year the school was able to raise $7648.94 to donate to the nonprofit Autism Speaks.

“I wasn’t expecting the fundraiser when I came out here, I was just coming to help educate the kids,” said Justin Wieging, Pacific Northwest manager for Autism Speaks.

“And from a school with just 40 kids,” he added in awe.

The fundraiser was part of a two-week educational unit that culminated in an educational event at the school where students were put in the shoes of autistic children.

The school’s event was designed to educate the students on autism — an issue that grows more severe each year.

“Every year we speak to the children about a disorder that may affect children,” said kindergarten teacher Penny Helfrick. “Our main objective is to educate them about situations other kids face. It’s mainly an awareness education.”

The school teamed up with the nonprofit Autism Speaks to help with the event.

Students moved from station-to-station around the school. It was set up like a scavenger hunt; students had to follow clues to know where to go next.

“The different stations have different aspects of autism that you might encounter if you are affected,” Wieging explained.

Kids that are typically developing wouldn’t understand why such conditions are issues for autistic children, so the stations help them to understand, Wieging said.

Each station was designed to provide insight into different aspects of having autism, such as the differences in how many autistic children use their senses.

For example, one station was held at a basketball hoop. A student asked to take a shot, but they had to do so through a multitude of distractions from noise to visual diversions.

“They have a lot of distractions around them, because autistic kids have a really hard time filtering out all the distractions in the world,” said Amy MaComber, a parent of an autistic child.

MaComber helped develop the scavenger hunt-style learning program at previous Autism Speaks events in Bellevue.

Another station blindfolded children so they would focus on their sense of touch. They then placed their hands in a bowl of peeled grapes. While for some, this may remind of Halloween pranks, the goal here was to teach the students that while some sensations seem normal to them, autistic kids can experience them in much more severe ways, causing them to recoil.

Students also learned sign language common to autistic children who cannot speak, attempted to tie their shoes with work gloves on to understand the difficulty of learning common practices, and even received brief instruction in Applied Behavioral Analysis, a method of therapy that is commonly used with autistic kids.

An added feature for this year’s educational unit for the students was the fundraiser for Autism Speaks. Students got creative to find ways to raise money.

“The seventh- and eighth-grade students designed a T-shirt, and we sold the T-shirts for a profit that went toward the Autism Speaks fund,” Helfrick said.

Other students sold cookies and lemonade, but the ideas didn’t end there.

“We had a student make dog treats and sell them to people with dogs,” Helfrick said. “They were very creative.”

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