The Stanly News and Press (Albemarle, NC)

December 27, 2012

Central teacher, mom see breakthrough in autistic child’s budding education

By Justin Jones, Staff Writer
The Stanly News & Press

Thursday, December 27, 2012 — It’s hard for 5-year-old Braden Poplin’s mother Carla to hide her emotions when she talks about her son’s teacher, Julie Busch.

It’s because Mrs. Busch, as she’s known to Braden, took a chance last summer when she elected to have Braden, who is autistic, in her kindergarten class.

Poplin said getting Braden into a regular kindergarten class seemed nearly inconceivable at times. More than a year ago, Braden was attending Central Elemen-tary’s pre-K class and it was suggested that he enter kindergarten in a self-contained class, a class comprised of children with a range of developmental disabilities.

If Braden had gone into a self-contained class, then Poplin said she would have been okay with the decision, but she wanted him in an environment that the Autism Society of North Carolina said would be best for him — in a typical classroom setting.

“That’s what they say, which is very hard to do, is what (Busch’s) done,” Poplin said of putting him in a typical classroom.

“I think she is one of the few who are willing to try something else and not look at the data, but look at the positive.”

Positive can be tough. Poplin knows. She said it was difficult to remain positive when she thought of how her son’s childhood would be different from other kids. Braden, who his mother described as “extremely intelligent,” is also primarily non-verbal. Having Busch take in her son for his first day of kindergarten was a memory that will be worth revisiting.

“Being a parent of a child with special needs, there’s a grieving time where you think about things you’re going to miss out on,” Poplin said.

“And (Busch) helped give us some of that back because she was so willing to let him start like everyone else and said if we can’t find something that works, we’ll try something else out.”

Busch, who is in her 23rd year of teaching, said she had never been fortunate enough to work with a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). After attending a meeting with the Poplins last summer, Busch walked away knowing that Braden could succeed in her class, but also knew she would have to do some homework of her own, researching the best methods to help Braden and herself with the new challenge.

“I knew it would be a challenge, but I had a heart-felt feeling that that challenge was meant just for me,” Busch said.

“I was asked to come to that meeting for a reason.”

After having the chance to observe Braden in Central’s pre-K program, Busch noticed some fundamental traits that she thought could translate well to her classroom.

“I felt like he had the confidence and self-efficacy that he would need in a regular classroom setting. I knew that he would need some one-on-one assistance at times, but I thought he should have a chance to experience kindergarten and be successful in that setting,” she said.

Part of the benefits of having Braden in Busch’s class is having him observe the behavior of other children. Busch, along with exceptioal children resource speciality  teacher JoEllen Teeter, have helped to fill in the areas where he might need extra attention.

Busch and Teeter have developed some ways to help Braden adapt to the classroom setting. For many autistic children, systematic routines help them to feel comfortable. Some stops along Braden’s routine include a walk with Busch to the office each morning where he then meets with Teeter in a one-on-one setting. They have also developed picture clues in substitution of words to fill his reading deficiencies. Small alterations, but steps that have led to progress.

“And he’s done amazingly well with that. He’s come so far from last year. In just a short amount of time, we’ve been really, really pleased,” Poplin said, to which Busch agreed.

“I see certain behaviors in Braden and I know he has obtained those from watching others. It is definitely beneficial for him to be in a regular ed classroom this year,” his mom said.

Maybe things wouldn’t have worked out so well if it weren’t for his classmates that have accepted him and treated him like all the others, and at times with a little extra love.

Poplin has observed Braden in the classroom and called the other kids “amazing.”

“He hums to himself and sings a lot,” Poplin said.

And as Braden and other classmates were sitting around, Braden began humming again, which is a means of communication.

Poplin said she saw one of the kids start rubbing him on his back, as if to say, “we’re listening.”

Braden and Busch will always share a connection after the events of this year, long after Braden moves along in his schooling. It was not long after having Braden in her class that Busch knew in order for him to continue developing, and for her to continue a commitment to making Braden’s kindergarten year the best it could be, she would need some help. Saying she wanted to help Braden was a nice gesture, but then she took action to ensure it.

“I wrote (requesting) a grant through the Bright Ideas for Education program,” she said of the program which is sponsored by North Carolina’s electric cooperatives that provides funding for classroom projects.

“I was so blessed to have Braden in my classroom and the opportunity to work with him each day, but I did not have the resources and materials I needed. Ongoing budget constraints did not allow any funding for these. I knew I needed curriculum resources and materials to meet the special needs of Braden.”

Her request was granted Nov. 9, when two representatives from Union Power surprised Busch with a check fpr $1,919.

“It was incredible,” Busch said.

Busch used the money to purchase learning materials and resources through National Autism Resources and Flaghouse.

The two have begun using some of the materials that arrived from Flaghouse and plan to get started with some of the other resources once they return from Christmas break.

 “I was given a challenge in August of this year — an incredible, life-changing challenge that has also energized my teaching,” she said.

“I think I have missed out on some precious and unique children. Braden is my first ASD child. How truly blessed I am. It was meant to be for (Principal) Mrs. Smith to call me for that meeting in July. It was meant to be for me to work with Braden this year.”

Busch took the challenge, and both are better off for it.

“It takes a teacher like (Busch) to say this kid can come in my class and do what it takes to make it,” Poplin said.