Autistic student excels in HSE district

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Tommy Maahs, left, with mother Jennifer. (Photo by Kourtnee Hamilton)

There is nothing unusual about an eighth grade boy that loves computers and electronics. However, a lifelong struggle with autism sets eighth grader Tommy Maahs apart from most of his peers.

At two years old Maahs was diagnosed with mild autism when his speech and motor skills were not progressing. Since his diagnosis, Maahs has been involved with special programs through the HSE school district. An early intervention preschool, part of Sand Creek Intermediate, helped facilitate the environment that Maahs needed in a school. The program offered peer mentors to students with special needs.

With the help of teachers in and out of the resource room, Maahs began tackling his biggest obstacle: organization. Maahs’ current school, Riverside Junior High, allows him to use a netbook at school because of his difficulty with handwriting. And in the math classroom, where he excels, teachers made special allowances so that he could begin math homework immediately, as he almost always has mastered the material.

When appropriate, HSE offers other opportunities to special needs students like Maahs: he has extended testing times in the resources room, and standardized tests like ISTEP are read aloud to him.

While Maahs has a fairly normal school day, resource teacher Lee Ann Stein has helped him adapt to the chaos of the day. His mother, Jennifer Maahs, drives Tommy to school early every day where he has the opportunity to settle down in the resource room. Resource teacher Missy Quinn from Riverside Intermediate School even bought a guinea pig to reward Maahs with time to play with it at the end of the school day.

“My biggest fear naturally is that he will be disappointed or his peers will not be nice to him,” Maahs’ mother said. However, the horror stories of bullying and peer pressuring that swell at the junior high level have hardly touched Tommy.

Maahs broke the stereotype this year when he became involved in student council. Once in the group, Tommy wrote a speech on an anti-bullying platform and was voted co-president.

With the help of a flexible school system, Tommy was given the avenue to not only survive in the classroom, but excel in math and sciences.

Maahs’ mother added, “Not every kid grows at the same pace and not every kid needs the same things. With the schools, we have taken the time to have good communication and to help Tommy meet his potential. If you had asked me if he would be president of student council, I never would have believed it.”

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