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Preschoolers get 'smart' about autism

Date: 6/2/2009

By Katelyn Gendron

Reminder Assistant Editor

AGAWAM -- Those at Smart Start Preschool in Feeding Hills believe it's never too early to teach children about the values of giving and acceptance.

Students, teachers, family and friends have gathered for the past two years to support the Smart Start Preschool Autism Walk each spring, raising over $4,500. Their fundraising efforts have yielded a new resource collection for those with autism and their families at the Agawam Public Library.

Robin Jensen, owner and director of Smart Start Preschool, said those attending the walk -- which includes a night of free live entertainment, games and more -- are asked to bring $1 but end up donating hundreds to the cause.

Jensen will officially dedicate the collection to the library during a small ceremony on June 3. The resources will include 50 books for teachers, children and parents of those with autism.

She added that John Elder Robison, author of "Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's," will also attend the dedication to discuss the disease and the importance of having resources to ensure quality of life those afflicted. Asperger's syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that infringes on a person's ability to have customary social interaction.

"The library always tries to be responsive to the needs of the community and the increasing [number of those diagnosed with] autism spectrum disorders; we continue to purchase materials [beneficial to them]," Judith Clini, director of Agawam Public Library, said. "The library is grateful that we were chosen as a place to house these materials for the community's use."

Wendy McAnanama, coordinator of Adult Programs, noted that the collection will be housed as part of the Parenting & Teacher Resource section in the Children's Library.

Jensen said she is hoping to expand donations to include communication equipment for those with autism that are nonverbal.

The public dedication ceremony and reading by Robison will take place at the Agawam Public Library, 750 Cooper St., on June 3 at 6:30 p.m.