At first it is difficult to tell at Westhaven Elementary School who has autism and who is in regular education. But then a balloon popped, and a sixth grader clapped his hands over his ears and kept them there. The sixth grader soon was calm, and was talking about outer space with his peer mentor.
Belleville District 118 pairs students on the autism spectrum with students in regular education classes. Students with autism learn social skills, and mentors develop skills to educate others about disorders on the spectrum. The program has grown gradually, and includes most of the district’s schools.
According to Autism Consulting Teacher Chris Gibson, peer mentoring has a huge impact on the more than 100 students with the disorder that are in the district. Mentors are not chosen for their smarts, but for their maturity and ability to help others.