Middle School Takes Steps To Help Special Needs Students - KFYRTV.COM - Bismarck, ND - News, Weather, Sports

Middle School Takes Steps To Help Special Needs Students

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A generation ago, most children with special needs were separated from their peers in school. But with greater understanding of their capabilities and the help of technology, they're being mainstreamed like never before. And that means a great deal to a Wachter Middle School student and his family.

This muscle work isn't some form of therapy. It's part of a regular gym class. And it's one of Ashton Simonson's favorite periods during the day. Ashton was born prematurely with cerebral palsy, and it's fallen upon his grandparents to raise him.

"He is not only a positive, good kid, he's just an overall really good person. He cares about people. He's very much a people person, very social. And he didn't volunteer to be born with issues. It just happened, and he certainly is a joy," says Ashton's grandmother Julie Mader.

He's just as smart and ambitious as any other thirteen-year-old. He's gone curling and skiing. But he needs a bit of a head start when heading down the halls to his next class. 

"I leave a little early so I don't get stuck in the traffic," says Ashton.

A new computer program on his wheelchair will help him thrive even more. He can change his joystick from controlling his chair to controlling his monitor. He's able to access the internet, and is learning to write and receive e-mails, and do his homework through voice recognition. Once that's perfected, he'll be able to accomplish much on his own.

"So that's what Dragon is. It's voice commands, and you are training the program to recognize his voice, so that when he speaks, the computer can then in turn dictate what he says," says assistive technology specialist Larissa Schwab.

Ashton and other children at Wachter are surrounded by a support team dedicated to their success. That certainly helps lighten a family's load.

"One of the things that we really like to do with our students who have special needs is make sure we're doing whatever we can  to increase their independence in their environment," says Wachter special ed teacher Kim Brecht. "Having them have access to the curriculum in a way that makes them a little bit more responsible for their own learning, in any way we can."

And even those who work with children every day are often amazed at what technological advances are making possible.

Ashton's family has benefited from funds raised by the Great American Bike Race, which is coming up a week from Saturday. He has a lift system in his house to move him from his bed to his chair to the shower, as well as other rather expensive equipment.

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