Written by Mary Masterson Friday, 27 January 2012 00:00
Statistics show that approximately one in 110 American children is on the autism spectrum – a 600 percent increase in prevalence over the past two decades.
When Hicksville High School special education teacher Margot Horn began her career over 31 years ago, the “autistic” diagnosis was rare and many people confused the term with “artistic.” Autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development; however, the most obvious signs and symptoms tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.
Many of Margot’s first students in a private school were severely disabled and non-verbal. Margot ate lunch with them and worked on eating skills and toilet training. She taught them sign language to communicate. Even the littlest amount of progress was considered fabulous and was celebrated. Currently, Margot teaches resource room, Regents algebra (inclusion) and a life skills class, which prepares students for independent living.Eleven years ago, Margot, along with her then 8-year-old daughter, Amanda, began volunteering with an organization called HorseAbility. They learned to ride and now conduct Hippotherapy, which means treatment with the help of a horse, every Saturday to individuals with special needs. The physical and emotional connection that children and adults with special needs have with the animals promotes the physical, psychological, emotional and social well-being of its participants.
It was through Margot’s activism at HorseAbility that she learned of another worthy organization called Autism Speaks, which continually works to fund research on effective methods for earlier diagnosis since early intervention with proven behavioral therapies can improve outcomes. The Autism Speaks website discusses causes and offers resources for help. Part of their fundraising efforts involves sponsoring walks all over the country, but their walk at Jones Beach is the biggest in the nation and raises the most money. Margot now organizes “The H Team” from Hicksville High School, comprised mainly of students, with many teachers participating as well.
This past year’s walk in October had 30,000 participants and almost $1.6 million was raised. Fifty students and teachers walked from Hicksville, which is more than double the amount from the previous year, and over $5,000 was raised. Hicksville High School student Brian Parisi designed the shirts that were worn by “The H Team.” Horn’s goal is to encourage everybody in the Hicksville community – teachers, students, parents and administrators alike to join her team next fall for the “2012 Walk for Autism Speaks” on Oct. 7 at Jones Beach.
Visit Horn’s “Autism Speaks” booth at the Hicksville Wellness Fair at Hicksville High School on March 3 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. for more information. Everyone is encouraged to wear blue (the color associated with autism awareness) on Autism Awareness Day, April 2. Even the Empire State Building will be lit up in blue on that day!
Horn is greatly respected and admired by her colleagues in the Hicksville Congress of Teachers for her selfless dedication, year after year, to helping others. “The more you experience how rewarding volunteering can be, the more you’ll want to give of yourself,” said Horn.