Insights on autism presented to club

What constitutes a good afternoon?

In my book, have a good lunch with good people, enjoy some conversation – hopefully something that will involve doable yet delicious recipes – and learn something new.

All that came together for yours truly when the GFWC/Ohio Woman’s Club of Steubenville held its March 4 meeting, ending its winter hiatus as the members have elected to no longer hold meetings in January and February.

At the Steubenville Country Club gathering, I enjoyed the lunch and the lunch company of Donna Phillips, Christine Shultz, Karen Majoris-Garrison, Shirley Valuska and Donna Keagler, the latter of whom shared a sausage and pasta recipe I intend to try.

The learn-something-new part of the meeting came courtesy of two representatives of the School of Bright Promise, including teacher Lauren Costello, the daughter of club member Beverly Costello. With her was Michael Gromczewski, case manager with the Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities. They were introduced by Eileen Krupinski, club vice president and program chairman.

“Ipads and Autism: Giving a Voice” was the title of Costello’s presentation, one that included a definition of autism, which is a neurological disorder that affects one in 88 children every year. It ranges in the degree of the disorder known as autism spectrum disorders, including the high-functioning Asberger’s Syndrome.

Communication difficulties, restrictive and repetitive behaviors, an inability to understand and follow social cues and sensory integration disorder are among the symptoms of an autistic person.

And yet, Costello pointed out, individuals with autism are known to be “very bright, innovative, technological, visual, intelligent, creative and competent learners who should never be underestimated.”

“I am amazed at what these children have taught me and how special they are,” said Costello, who is in her first year as a special educator, working with seven students ranging in age from kindergarten through grade four. Three of her students are autistic.

Costello said Ipads are making a difference for students with autism who have an unexplainable attraction to technology and are visual learners. The Ipad gives the students the opportunity to express their interests, learn creatively and “even express the voices that they have inside of them that many times go unnoticed.”

The average cost of an Ipad 2 with 16GB of memory is $399, according to Costello, who said the school has one per classroom, and “it’s not enough.”

Costello said her hope is that each school in the Steubenville City School District would be provided with at least two Ipads for each of its special education units. That would include the Jefferson County Board of Developmental Disabilities: School of Bright Promise; Steubenville East Elementary School; Pugliese West Elementary School; Harding Middle School; and Steubenville High School.

Gromczewski reinforced Costello’s message, noting that in order to do his job as a case manager, with clients being individuals with autism, he needs to listen to students and their families to understand their situation and challenges.

Kathy Mills, club president, presided at the meeting where she offered the “Don’t Give Up” meditation and devotion.

Dolores Pirraglia and Carlotta Jordan served as hostesses and greeters.

Marge Bedortha, corresponding secretary, read several notes of appreciation the club had received for its contributions, among them the Beacon House, Historic Fort Steuben, American Red Cross Jefferson County Chapter, Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center and the Grand Theater Restoration Project.

Mills reminded members that the 2013 Southeast District Legislation Day will be held March 23 at St. Florian Hall in Wintersville with the GFWC/Ohio Wintersville Woman’s Club serving as host.

The event will include the presentation of awards with state Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, as the keynote speaker. Registration is from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., when the session will be called to order.

The club will launch a Pennies for Puppies project to benefit Hounds Haven and the Jefferson County Animal Shelter, according to Mills.

The club president also encouraged members to invite a friend or relative to come on board as a club member.

Welcomed as a new member was Frances Hughes.

The club’s next noon luncheon and business meeting will be held April 1 at the Steubenville Country Club with Flora VerStraten-Merrin, president of the Jefferson County Chapter of the Ohio Genealogical Society, as the guest speaker. Her topic will be “Finding Our Roots.”

Marlene Rhueff and Shirley Valuska will serve as hostesses and greeters.