Dr. Brenda Smith Myles is an Associate Professor at the University of Kansas School of Education, and an author of such classic books as The Hidden Curriculum and Asperger Syndrome and Difficult Moments. Through her teaching, her research, and her writing, Dr. Myles has become a nationally recognized leader in showing us all what strategies and interventions are most effective and appropriate for students with AS—and doing so with humor and compassion.
Shelley Wainrib is a Special Education Teacher at Burrell Elementary School in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Mrs. Wainrib adapts her teaching strategies to fit each child’s learning style. She has changed the life of a student with AS. She has eased his anxiety, which previously prevented him from learning. She addresses his sensory and play skill needs in different settings, and has boosted his self esteem. She communicates openly with parents, and gives them great ideas to use at home. Under Mrs. Wainrib’s strong leadership, a team of educators and parents are working harmoniously together with a shared mission of helping this student grow to his full potential.
Susan Fox is a Fifth Grade Teacher at John Wickes Elementary School in Warwick, Rhode Island. Susan Fox is one of those exceptional teachers who have natural skills and an inclusive style. She has enthusiasm, and can intuitively understand what each student needs to be motivated to learn. She is fair, and provides a safe environment for each child. She takes the time to explain those social areas that can be misunderstood by students with AS. She has learned as much as she can about AS, and skillfully put newly learned strategies into action in the classroom. All students are grateful for the comfort provided in “Mrs. Fox’s Den.”
Jan Simas is a First Grade Teacher in Cedar Hill Elementary School in Warwick, Rhode Island. Although there is a separate special needs classroom available, she believes in including all children in her classroom. She communicates with the staff of early intervention programs, who know her incoming students, so she can find out the best strategies to use with each student. She provides predictable schedules, creates transition plans, and uses social stories. She assigns peer mentors, who are thrilled to help others. She applies relaxation strategies for everyone in class and has the strong reader with AS read to his classmates. Her interventions have provided friendships for this student, despite some perseverative behaviors and social challenges. She has truly brought all her children together as a community.
Janet Yedinak is the Transition Coordinator at High Plain Elementary School in Andover, Massachusetts. Mrs. Yedinak is a true advocate for students. She provided weekly counseling sessions to help a student with AS succeed, visited the student on her personal time. She worked tirelessly to incorporate all accommodations mentioned in outside evaluations, made sure that every teacher understood the child, supported the family through some difficult transitions, and helped the family to obtain services from other agencies. She has clearly gone beyond the scope of her job for this child to “be the best he can be.”
Mary Ann Ruscito is a Speech and Language Therapist at Fisher Elementary School in Walpole, Massachusetts, where she runs lunch groups, and teaches social skills and pragmatics. However, her efforts on behalf of her students and families go far beyond fulfilling the responsibilities in her formal job description—and far beyond the hours of the school day. She studies the latest research on ways to help students with AS. She is genuinely interested in each of her students, and committed to helping them thrive in all aspects of their lives. She is always available to support the family, even with late night talks. Realizing that anxiety was a major obstacle for one student with AS, and Mrs. Ruscito created a warm, stress free school environment for him. She met him at the bus, and checked in with him throughout the day. She e-mailed him on days off, and visited him over the summer.
Beth LeBlanc is a Special Education Teacher at Phillipston Memorial School in Phillipston, Massachusetts. Beth has always supported progress for her students in both academic and non-academic areas. Over the past three years she has set the tone of including her students with AS in as many areas of the curriculum as possible. She makes sure that each student gets whatever services he or she needs, accommodations for sensory challenges. She ensures that the staff is flexible and open to new ideas, and that teachers include in the school day opportunities for the student to use his strengths. In addition, she always has time for parent support calls.
Matthew Arnold is a Speech and Language Pathologist at the Manville School in Boston, Massachusetts. Over the past three years Mr. Arnold has changed the way a certain young man presents from “much more autistic” to looking like a more “neurotypical person.” This young man’s parents have marveled their son has slowly learned the steps of conversation: look up from what you are doing, nod, make eye contact, say hello, try to ask a reciprocal question, be sure you’re finished before you walk away, say good bye. These are the skills that will enable this young man to succeed in life, and the family is indebted to Mr. Arnold for his excellent work.
Judy Robinson is a Special Educator and Inclusion Coordinator at Blake Middle School in Medfield, Massachusetts. Transitioning to Middle School is often a dreaded time for students with AS and their families—but not at Blake Middle School. Judy Robinson is proactive, a creative problem solver, and a great team builder. When a student with AS faced the transition from his elementary school into Blake, Judy showed genuine interest, clarified the student’s needs, and set up a creative and helpful team—with the great input from the Principal, too. She put systems and resources in place from day one. Judy continually learns more about AS. AANE is pleased to recognize her outstanding work to achieve successful inclusion for her students with AS.
George Makrys is a Special Needs Teacher at Wareham High School in Wareham, Massachusetts. He is a unique teacher who “got it” right away when working with students with AS. He reaches out to parents, and listens to their concerns, disappointments, and suggestions. He functions not only as a teacher, but also as a personal coach, a mentor, and an advocate for his students. He has handled difficult moments with his students, and finds the ways to make a day enjoyable. When thanked, Mr. Makrys says, “I’m just doing my job.” When notified that he had won a Cotsen award, he said he felt that he was just part of the “village that raises each child”.
Karen Tokat is a Special Educator and Case Manager at Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vermont. With 1600 students, Essex is the largest high school in Vermont, and is not an easy environment to navigate when you have AS. What makes Karen so special is how she “appreciates” her students with AS. She shows genuine commitment to accommodating the needs of her students. She constantly seeks more training about Asperger Syndrome. She anticipates her students’ needs and is proactive in providing services and environments to help with sensory challenges. Students, parents, and colleagues appreciate her genuine warmth and sense of humor.
Runner up Nominees
Elana R. Aitken, Ph.D. is a therapist in Amherst, MA who specializes in helping children with disabilities and their families with the multiple challenges in their lives. She runs programs, is a therapist, an advocate and supports all aspects of a child’s life. She has written letters, given her office space, gathered professional teams together and aides the family with legal problems. She has made herself available at all times, even when away on vacation! No task is beyond her job including finding a dentist, helping to obtain free tickets to after school activities and much more. Throughout this relationship of nearly six years, she counseled, encouraged and taught the parents all they needed to know about their child. The family is so aware that this professional shaped their child’s life and sincerely appreciates the excellence of her work.
MaryAnne Marcello is a special educator at Westbay Children’s Center in Warwick, R.I. She has been an inspiration who works with young children, immediately seeing the “amazingly capable, charming, kind and smart” child who may be wrapped in challenges. She sees “special qualities” first and works to improve the difficulties such as perseverative behaviors, biting, sensory irritability, potty training, being able to eat without gagging and decreasing high anxiety. She understands the trials of parents and helps them to see their own child with more positive eyes. She maintains clear focus, holds consistency, appreciates quirkiness and always validates the value of each child. She exemplifies excellence in teaching students with Asperger Syndrome.
Dan O’Hara is an art teacher at Corwin-Russell school in Sudbury, MA. He has provided his students with a haven of “quiet and calm” and is a “rock for them in stormy seas”. He provides opportunities for students to excel in school and increases their motivation to stay and work in all areas of school. He councils his students while working in class and helps them navigate their challenges. Dan’s successful work with his students with Asperger Syndrome has helped them obtain “glowing” reports and we agree that “Dan rocks”!