Enquirer Herald

Autistic student role model for Jefferson Elementary program

YORK -- Meeting Michael Long for the first time, you might not think he was any different from other 10-year-old boys.

He likes to read and is a whiz at spelling. He gives a wide smile and a handshake when you meet him.

Michael is different, though. He has autism, a development disorder that hinders his social and communication skills.

But, don't think that will prevent him from living a successful and happy life.

Michael was one of the first students to start Jefferson Elementary's applied behavior therapy class, which provides one-on-one instruction for students.

Now after his fourth year in the program, he's become a role model for other students who have autism and will graduate to a self-contained classroom with other students.

"He's our little ambassador," said ABT director Vikki Revels.

Michael's mother Nora Long says she noticed there was something different with Michael when he was about 3. He was diagnosed with autism at age 4.

"I never thought Michael would be able to read a book," she said. "I thought he'd never be able to do math."

But now he can do both and much more.

"Sometimes if you just meet him for a brief moment, you never know," Long said.

She credits the teachers at Jefferson with his success.

Revels taught Michael when he was in preschool and is now coordinator for the ABT program at Jefferson. Over the years, she's seen dramatic improvements.

"He had a really hard time focusing in a big group situation," she said. "He didn't really comprehend a lot of language."

The individualized classroom environment and planned interaction with other students has helped him overcome a lot of that and he now enjoys learning and playing with friends.

"I like Jumpstart Phonics," he said of his favorite computer program.

Now he's ready to move up to a classroom with other students.

"I'll be sad next year," said Beverly Martin, who has worked one-on-one with him for the last two years. "He's one good-natured kid."

Long is thankful her son had the chance to get a good education and overcome his disabilities.

"When you see how much education plays in the role of an autistic child, it really makes a difference," she said. "I just want it to be know that there's hope out there."