TMSG: High School Links Autistic Students With Peer Mentors - WLNS TV 6 Lansing - Jackson | Your Local News Leader

TMSG: High School Links Autistic Students With Peer Mentors

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) - The number of children diagnosed with autism is growing. According to the latest CDC report, about 1-in-50 children have some form, which is a big jump from just 1-in-88 back in 2007.

Luke Donohue looks like any other teen. And in many ways he is. He has his own interests. "I like to write stuff, draw stuff. In fact, I'm a really good artist," he says. 

But one factor sets this 15-year-old apart from most of his peers at Okemos High School. Luke has Aspergers, a form of autism. When he found out, his mom, Susan, says it all made sense.

"He said wow, Einstein had it, Thomas Jefferson may have had it, Edison. He goes mom, this explains a lot," said Susan Donohue.

Luke's actions, though, don't always make sense to his peers. "Yeah, I have a couple habits actually. Like, for instance, like biting my nails."

But the Links Program slated to start next fall aims to bridge the gap between general education students and autistic students.

"Socially, things are difficult for him," said Susan.

The Links Program will allow a peer mentor to learn about autism and to work side-by-side with students, like Luke, on ways to stay organized and how to behave appropriately in class.

Christine Skoutelas works with autistic students at the high school and says there's a growing need for the program.

"Right now, we're in a stage where the diagnosis has broadened, so we're seeing higher numbers," Skoutelas, OHS resource room teacher.

But Susan hopes students gain something from this experience, too, like discovering the gifts Luke and others have to offer.

"I can't tell you how his brain works cause mine's not wired that way, but it really is remarkable when you get to know him how interesting the world is to him," said Susan.

About 5 percent of the students at Okemos High School are on the autism spectrum. So far 12 have signed up for the program. Links was first used back in 1990 at a middle school in Clarkston, about 80-miles west of Lansing. Since it started, it's spread across the state and the country.

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