Teaching inclusion in schools for autism awareness month

Photo: @KentPierce8

NAUGATUCK, Conn. (WTNH)– A charity that started after one of Connecticut’s darkest days is now brightening the lives of students with special needs. It is an effort to include students of all abilities in group activities and it is growing.

News8 got an exclusive look at a program called Wingman in action at City Hill Middle School in Naugatuck. Fighter pilots know a wingman is someone who has your back. In this case, Wingman is part of Dylan’s Wings of Change, a charity named after Dylan Hockley. He was one of 20 first graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, and he was autistic. His father says 6 year-old Dylan often had trouble playing with other kids.

“But if someone actually took the time to explain, step by step, what was needed,” Ian Hockley said, “Actually listened and found out what he could understand, then he was able to take part in games with the other children and he really got a lot more out of life.”

For autistic children, there are special programs and schools, but what if it’s the rest of us who need educating? To learn that even if someone is sitting alone he may still want to be part of the group? Or that even though he has trouble grasping the rules of the game, he still wants to play?

“So when we teach children to connect with each other, no matter what their differences are, it doesn’t have to be autism,” Hockley explained. “Then everybody gets included, you get a much stronger community.”

In a classroom at City Hill Middle School, kids of all different abilities were working together. They were painting rocks, which is simple enough, but these rocks will come with sympathy cards and go in the garden of the family of a school employee who just passed away. So the lesson learned is kindness, sympathy, and working together. Wingman is also about kids teaching other kids.

“I go into classrooms like once every month about a topic and we teach kids about a lesson and make them try to be nicer to people,” said Jordyn Hunt, City Hill 8th grader.

“Kids are excited, teachers are excited,” explained City Hill School teacher Carolyn Laurentus. “The faculty, the staff, administration, cafeteria workers, everybody in the building is involved.”

Wingman has even expanded to dance schools. 120 dancers, some special needs, some not, all got together on the Newtown High football field last Sunday.

Ian Hockley has signed up seven schools for Wingman so far, and he plans to keep expanding, and to keep helping children to grow in the name of the boy who always be 6 years old

“He was the little boy who needed everyone to be his wingman,” he said of his don, Dylan. “Not just one person, he didn’t just need a buddy to help guide him through life, he needed everybody to be looking out for him.”

The organization has several upcoming events, including a race the day before Mother’s Day. For more information, click here: Wingathlon Information

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