By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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JUAN CARLO/THE STAR Mindy Gallo (far left), PTA president and parent, sings along with her daughter Josephine Gallo, who’s looking at her as other students join the preschoolers during an assembly at Berylwood School in Simi Valley.

School celebrates differences

on Autism Awareness Day

April 2, 2014 Ventura County Star

Using an apple, an orange and a banana, Pat Madden illustrated the importance of differences to children at Berylwood School in Simi Valley on World Autism Awareness Day.

“Is an apple better than a banana? Is an orange better than an apple? No. It’s just different,” Madden said Wednesday. “Nature could have made everything the same. ... Different is interesting and alive and exciting. Same is boring.”

An on-staff psychologist with the Simi Valley Unified School District, Madden spoke to the student body Wednesday during two morning assemblies broken up by age group.

“The reason we are here today is to talk about differences,” Madden said, “and how to tolerate people who are different either in their physical body, in the way they function mentally or in their social interaction and behavior.”

What if you see somebody with one leg or a person rocking back and forth, Madden hypothesized.

“When in doubt, check it out,” he said. “People who have differences would rather have you ask them what to do ... than just ignore them or guess.”

Kids may appear different for a wide variety of reasons, said Mindy Gallo, of Simi Valley, PTA president at Berylwood whose 6-year-old son was diagnosed with autism as a toddler.

“Perhaps someone wears glasses, is 6 inches taller than the rest of the class, or has obvious signs of autism or another developmental difference,” Gallo said. “This is about how we respond and what we should do when we meet someone we feel is different from us.”

People sometimes feel nervous around others who look or act differently, Madden told the children.

“We might say things to put them down to tease them or to make fun of them and then they begin to feel bad,” Madden said. “So what they really want ... are for us to just leave them alone or be friends with them.”

To help the younger children understand the concept, Madden noted an exchange between Bambi and Thumper.

“Thumper told Bambi something very, very important about how to teach people,” said Madden, who then prompted the children to repeat the lesson three times in unison: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Bryce Tory, a third-grader, said he felt sad when he was teased in the past.

“It’s important to be nice to people so you get treated the same back,” the 9-year-old said.

If someone feels left out because they are different, help them fit in, said Amalie Dujardin, 9.

“You want to make them feel like they’re the same and make them feel like they’re a part of everyone,” she said. “It’s important to feel like you’re a part of something because then it makes you feel better.”

Kelsi Bjorseth, a resource teacher who oversees seven students with autism, said Wednesday’s effort helped instill tolerance at an early age.

“Especially for these younger ones ... at this age, they can learn to ask rather than develop a stigma based on a blanket statement they hear,” Bjorseth said.

© 2014 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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