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As part of the passion for community service that led her to start her own nonprofit organization, a Las Cruces high school student has created a website to help autistic children learn.
Shreeya Moolamalla, 16, a senior at Mesilla Valley Christian Schools (MVCS), launched Autism Hub (www.autismhub.us) in late July.
Moolamalla and other MVCS students were working with young children dealing with neurodiversity (variations in brain function and behavior), health and financial issues as part of the HandinHand nonprofit they created. During her interaction with autistic children, Moolamalla said she discovered there were few online resources focused on teaching and learning for young children identified as having autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“I should create something,” Moolamalla decided last June, to “o supplement the current educational system to support K-6 learning and is catered to those with autism,” she said in the purpose statement on her website.
She began meeting and talking with autism professionals in Las Cruces and other parts of the state, including at New Mexico State University and the University of New Mexico. She consulted with teachers, therapists and with parents of ASD children to create the site, Moolamalla said, which is designed so parents and guardians can navigate with their children.
The result is a website with an “easy, consistent format” that ASD children can follow without being triggered by a variety of stimuli and changes in routine.
Autismhub.us has eight sections: Self Regulating, Learning Math, Learning Science, Awesome Art, Writing Workshop, Help with Speech, Developing Social Skills and Brain Breaks.
Each section is designed “to help every individual autistic child learn STEM subjects in a fun way, have a place to express their creativity, self regulate, and teach them social and speech skills,” Moolamalla said in the purpose statement on the website.
“I want them to have fun,” she said.
On the Awesome Art page, for example, you will find drawing ideas, coloring pages and crafts projects that Moolamalla created, broken down by national holidays. Drawing ideas in the Halloween section include a jack-o-lantern and “what you want to be for Halloween.” Arts and crafts ideas including making trick or treat bags and Halloween windsocks and masks. A treasure map and “an awesome forest” are included in the section’s “random drawing prompts.” Coloring sheets include baby dragons, a dinosaur and outer space.
The Learning Science section took the longest to create, Moolamalla said. It includes 10 topics, including the solar system, plants, the weather, food and animals. It includes experiments like making play dough, painting with ice and building a bridge with popsicle sticks.
The Speech Skills section includes interactive worksheets to help with comprehension and pronunciation of everything from fruits and vegetables to likes and dislikes.
The Social Skills section has 20 videos Moolamalla created to help children with everyday social skills like taking turns, washing hands and brushing teeth.
The website’s homepage includes a feedback form, which Moolamalla said is “open to any tips that any professional might have so that this website can be as fun and useful as possible.”
“I really want feedback,” she said.
Children with ASD “have a passion for learning,” said Moolamalla’s close friend and HandinHand co-founder, Kelly Starritt. “They are so capable.”
Children diagnosed with ASD “should be able to find their passion,” she said. “That’s why I started this.”
Moolamalla is reaching out to schools and local and state governments to tell them about Autism Hub.
Contact Moolamalla at email@example.com.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) defines autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as “a neurological and developmental disorder that affects how people interact with others, communicate, learn, and behave. Although autism can be diagnosed at any age, it is described as a developmental disorder because symptoms generally appear in the first two years of life,” according to www.nimh.nih.gov.
Quoting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a guide created by the American Psychiatric Association to help health care providers diagnose mental disorders, NIMH said “people with ASD often have difficulty with communication and interaction with other people; restricted interests and repetitive behaviors; and symptoms that affect their ability to function in school, work, and other areas of life.
“Autism is known as a ‘spectrum’ disorder because there is wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience.”
NIMH said the cause of ASH is not known, “but studies suggest that a person’s genes can act together with aspects of their environment to affect development in ways that lead to ASD.”
The national Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported in 2021 that approximately one in 44 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, according to 2018 data. The CDC said one in 27 boys and one in 116 girls was identified with autism.
See an ASD brochure at www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/autism-spectrum-disorder.
Also visit www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.