Thursday, April 24, 2008

Student spreads word about autism

SOUTH HADLEY - A 16-year-old South Deerfield teen-ager who is a student at Pioneer Valley Performing Arts High School is out to educate the public about autism spectrum disorders as part of April being National Autism Awareness Month.

The youth, Daniel E. Sandberg, has Asperger's syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life and affects a person's ability to communicate and interact with others, according to information posted on the Web site of the Autism Society of America.

Asperger's syndrome is characterized by limited interests or an usual preoccupation with a particular subject to the exclusion of other activities, according to information on the Web site of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Asperger's syndrome may also involve repetitive routines or rituals, peculiarities in speech and language, socially and emotionally inappropriate behavior, the inability to interact successfully with peers, problems with nonverbal communication, and clumsy and uncoordinated movements.

Sandberg is raising awareness about autism through posters to which he added interlocking puzzle pieces that state simple facts about the disorder.

Among them are, "People with autism spectrum disorders accept others without judgmentã and, "Many people with autism spectrum disorders are very anxious."

The poster also has a photograph of Albert Einstein, who is suspected to have had Asperger's syndrome.

Sandberg said he is particularly pleased that students have reacted positively to posters.

"It made me feel so good," he said during a recent interview at the school. "I'm trying to educate people about autism ... I want to be a good advocate for teaching more people about autism."

Sandberg, who was diagnosed at age 7, attends regular classes but has special help outside the classroom.

One way his disorder manifests itself is that he has difficulty in crowded, noisy situations, Sandberg said.

However, Joann L. Odato-Staeb, a consultant who works with Sandberg, said a positive aspect of being unusually sensitive to sound is that Sandberg is able to hear things musically that other people cannot sense.

Sandberg, who plays guitar and writes songs, said he would like to become a sound engineer.

The sophomore, who plans to do a presentation at school on autism spectrum disorders, said, "There is a lot more people could be learning ... Education is a big thing.

"I'm never shy about letting people know what I have," he added.

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