Helena schools implementing new programs to address rising autism rates
Helena's schools have recently seen a significant increase in conditions such as autism that can cause emotional disturbance and affect formal speech and language skills.
According to data collected by the school district's special education department, autism in particular has ballooned by 109 percent over the past five years. The number of diagnosed students district-wide grew from 69 in 2013 to 144 in 2018.
One of the newest programs, Trailhead, is intended to serve as a first step for students with autism to receive behavioral and academic supports that will prepare them for a successful journey through school and in life.
Trailhead is one of two programs started with the resources the district already had available, Maharg said.
The program largely focuses on the communicative skills of students with autism. The program is semirelated to the district's Functional Life Skills program in that it also teaches the functional skill of communication. Trailhead's focus is on teaching kids the basics of how to function within a typical classroom by addressing adaptive, communication, social/emotional and cognitive needs.
"How they struggle with environmental impulses. How they handle being put into an adaptive situation. How they adjust," Maharg said. "It's a skill we all take for granted."
The program’s overall goal is to get students to the point where they can re-enter a traditional classroom setting.