Autism – Reach For The S.T.A.R.S.

This is the third article in a series regarding Autism Spectrum Disorder. In the first articleRachel Dannemiller shared her journey that led to the discovery that her son Jason had autism. Last week we posted an eye-opening letter written from the viewpoint of a child with autism. This week Rachel continues her story. 

Autism - Reach for the S.T.A.R.S.

Jason has been attending school since he was about two years old. Early intervention is very crucial for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He attended the Metzenbaum Center in Chesterland  for four years. In order to keep him on a schedule similar to that of the public school district he would attend in the fall, Jason would need an extended school year.  We were pointed in the direction of numerous summer camps and programs. The S.T.A.R.S. program was one of those options. I attended an open house to learn more about their summer program and decided that is where Jason would attend his extended school year. The program ran for four weeks where children attended four half days and one full day.

When Jason completed the S.T.A.R.S. summer program, he would need to attend a “regular” school come fall. We were not comfortable sending him to the public school, as we had already held him back one year knowing he would not excel with his peer group. Even though the school district wanted us to send him, we felt an alternative learning environment would be in his best interest.

The S.T.A.R.S. program, once again, became a viable option and we decided that’s where we would start. We enrolled Jason in kindergarten in the old Huntsburg elementary school where classes were taught. Transportation was provided to and from school through our district. We were very happy with the instructors and the attention they gave to our son.

Jason Dannemiller
Jason Dannemiller

Jason is now a thriving second grader in the S.T.A.R.S. program held in Jordak Elementary school in Middlefield, Ohio. YES, there is an AUTISM program in Middlefield!  Many do not know it even exists. This is a program offered through Geauga County Educational Services. Specialized Teaching for Children with Autism and Resource Services or S.T.A.R.S. In this school, the teachers, staff, and aids are chosen by the district, trained, then take state exams. They have been a godsend.  Program Director Dana Jancik is wonderful, and does not hesitate to answer any questions or concerns. These teachers have gone beyond just schooling. Mrs. Janet Sapp, Jason’s teacher for the past two years, has even come to our home to help with other issues, such as potty training. Children on the Spectrum do not potty train at the same time or in the same manner as neuro typical children.

YES, there is an AUTISM program in Middlefield!

This county is very fortunate to have such an outstanding program. S.T.A.R.S. consists of approximately 32 kids in K-12 with a maximum number of students per class set at six. All class rooms have teaching aids. They also offer speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and other specialties.

 As a comparison, the Cleveland Clinic Lerner Institute for Autism costs roughly $60,000 PER YEAR. That does not include transportation. YES, I said $60,000! Yet we have a gem right here in Geauga County! If you know anyone who has autism, please speak with your school district or county workers. That’s what they are here for – to point you in the direction you need to go. There are so many resources out there, and many who are willing and able to help.

We can not say thank you enough to the wonderful people at the S.T.A.R.S.!

S.T.A.R.S. will be having their 5th annual spring luncheon fundraiser on Saturday, April 14th at 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. Lunch will be served at noon in the St. Denis party center, 10660 Chardon Rd, Chardon, Ohio. Admission is $25.00 per person. You may contact the S.T.A.R.S. program director, Dana Jancik 440-632-9062 or Kim Rataiczak 440-796-2340.

This is a wonderful way to help raise money for the S.T.A.R.S. program and to meet exceptional people in OUR community helping our children every day. Proceeds from
this event provide the children who attend S.T.A.R.S. the opportunity to go on school
trips. They also are used to purchase classroom equipment such as IPADS.

Jason has excelled beyond expectation. Anything is possible when you reach for the S.T.A.R.S.

Rachel Dannemiller
Author: Rachel Dannemiller

Rachel is a lifelong resident of Geauga County. She is married to Tom and has a son Jason, and a dog named Harley. Rachel and her family are devoted to bringing autism awareness to the community and they are organizing the local Autism Speaks event in Burton this year.