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Finding Common Ground

It is 1:00 p.m. in Lori Michalak's classroom at Foothills Elementary School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Something unexpected is unfolding.

Steve, a student who has learning differences associated with autism, is flying through his division worksheet with the same zest he radiates on the playground. The correct answers are no longer elusive to this confident, independent fifth-grader.

"I like math because I'm good at it and it's fun," says Steve.

But it hasn't always been this way. Special Education teacher Lori Michalak describes her first encounter with Steve when he was in second grade: "Steve was struggling with even the most basic math concepts. He is a concrete, visual learner, and we simply needed a way to address his learning style."

Many teachers experience this daunting gap between an educational goal and a student's reality. But Lori did not give up. She found common ground with the help of TouchMath's multisensory program.

"I introduced TouchMath which gave him several ways to learn. We used the games and activities to build confidence and increase Steve's attention span. TouchPoints provided a tangible way of understanding instead of just memorizing facts using abstract concepts."

She pauses to reflect on her student's progress. "Steve doesn't even need the TouchPoints anymore. Now he can visualize where they are."

A recent prevalence report issued by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that the occurrence of autistic spectrum disorders has swelled over the past decade to 1 in 150 American children and 1 in 94 boys.

The Autism Society of America estimates that the lifetime cost of caring for a child with autism ranges from $3.5 million to $5 million, and that the United States is facing almost $90 billion annually in costs for autism.

Farsighted organizations such as the Autism Society of America and Cure Autism Now have contributed to a brighter prognosis through scientific research, increased public awareness and breakthrough teaching techniques.

Pediatric neurologist and developmental pediatrician, Brian Grabert, M.D., stresses that early intervention and specialized teaching methods make a big difference. His Colorado Springs practice includes many children exhibiting autistic spectrum disorders.

"Treatment and educational programs produce the best outcomes when they teach skills in a series of simple, sequential steps; engage the child's attention in structured activities; build on a child's interests; and reinforce behavior," he says.

Steve is one beneficiary of such a teaching strategy. Today, after four years of TouchMath training, he has arrived at the threshold of middle school. He is proficient in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, and can tell time, work with money and solve story problems.

As the school year ends, Lori Michalak says goodbye to her student with the sublime, misty-eyed satisfaction that sometimes comes to teachers after a mission accomplished.

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