by Katie Talerico
Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the Feb. 8 edition of the Trojan Tribune.
Wayzata High School is donating all proceeds from last week’s Heartweek Fundraiser to the Metro Friendship Foundation, a local non-profit organization who provides scholarships to children seeking social skills development in the Twin Cities area.
“The prevalence of Autism has risen to 1-in-88 births and is the fastest growing development disability with a 1,148 percent growth rate,” said Lead Autism Specialist Mark McCaghy of West Metro Learning Connections.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Individuals with autism may have trouble picking up on social norms or building relationships with others.
To teach them how to successfully function in society and how to make and keep meaningful relationships, many students on the spectrum may enroll in social skills development classes such as those offered by West Metro Learning Connections.
Hettie Stern, a senior at Wayzata High School, has a five-year-old sister, Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been enrolled in social skills development classes at West Metro for the last two years with the assistance of Metro Friendship Foundation.
“The social development classes teach Elizabeth skills that help her make friends and interact with new people,” said Stern. “Thanks to early intervention, Elizabeth has exceeded all expectations for her capabilities. She’s not only functioning at a high level, but also showing interest in making friends and engaging in pretend play—overcoming a devastating prediction by doctors who said she would never have an imagination.”
West Metro, with unmatched expertise and support, has played a large role in Elizabeth’s improvement.
“I couldn’t be prouder of how far Elizabeth has come or more grateful that we found Metro Friendship Foundation,” said Stern.
According to the Harvard School of Public Health, the costs for individuals with ASD can cost up to $43,000 per year. The need for financial assistance is predominate.
“Development classes are expensive and insurance companies are reluctant to pay for higher functioning individuals,” said Stern.
The money raised by Wayzata High School will contribute to an uncountable number of friendships and relationships created through the help of the Metro Friendship Foundation. “In addition to enabling more individuals to attend social skills classes, I hope that by raising awareness this fundraiser can encourage acceptance and respect for those on the spectrum in our school and community,” said Stern.
In 2012 Metro Friendship Foundation awarded 50 scholarships for social skills development to local families. For more information about Metro Friendship Foundation, visit www.metrofriendshipfoundation.org or join virtual advocates on Facebook.