Teaticket 2024 Autism Acceptance Project Celebrates Individuality

Teaticket 2024 Autism Acceptance Project Celebrates Individuality
Posted on 06/25/2024
Students and teachers holding an Autism Acceptance Banner

By Sarah E. Murphy

Gasps of excitement echoed throughout the Teaticket Elementary School gymnasium as longtime volunteer Corinne Minshall joined Principal Sandy Kapsambelis and Special Education Building Administrator Krista Connelly at the May community meeting to unveil the 2024 Autism Acceptance Project. 

The thunderous applause continued as they unrolled a black canvas banner affixed with brightly-colored clothespin people and a rainbow of ribbons in the shape of the Neurodiversity infinity symbol, featuring the slogan: Teaticket Celebrates Every Child’s Uniqueness

The project is an annual collaboration between Teaticket students, staff, and Mrs. Minshall, who initially began volunteering when her son, Remy, was a TIP (Therapeutic Intervention Program) student at Teaticket. She wanted to help facilitate a dialogue about autism for Remy’s peers, educators, and community to illustrate and educate how people learn differently. 

“This started as a way to help others understand who Remy was as a kid, and it’s just grown from there,” Mrs. Minshall said.

She credited Mrs. Kapsambelis, who was working as the school’s SEBA when they first met, for supporting the collaboration throughout her tenure as principal.

“Sandy allowed it to happen. She recognized how important it was, and not everyone might necessarily do that,” Mrs. Minshall said. 

Working with large groups, bringing people together through storytelling and creativity, and promoting individuality all come naturally to Mrs. Minshall, a former social worker and a local theater director. Therefore, she offered to draw from her professional and personal experience to oversee a school-wide project to educate about autism and celebrate the contributions of all Teaticket Tigers. 

Since 2019, projects have expanded to include a colorful banner proclaiming “Autism is Ausome!” to last year’s Neurodiversity Rock Garden, now a permanent fixture in the outdoor courtyard at Teaticket.

Whatever the project, the goal for Mrs. Minshall has always been bringing students and staff together in recognition of individuality. She augments the lesson with a literary component, visiting every classroom at Teaticket to read aloud an age-appropriate book about autism, using stories to educate, such as why it might be difficult for some students to make eye contact with others, including their teachers and peers. 

“It’s not because they're not paying attention; it’s because they can’t understand what you're saying if they’re looking at you. It’s too much information to look at you,” Mrs. Minshall explained.

“Each grade learns a different book every year, so by the time students leave Teaticket, they have a healthy sense of what autism is at a base level, and how to treat everyone with kindness and compassion.”

For the 2024 project, all students and staff created a clothespin person to reflect themselves, using a particular color assigned to differentiate each classroom, which they were able to personalize by selecting from an array of materials. Mrs. Minshall originally planned to assemble the pins with the students, but due to the sheer volume, she completed that impressive step herself. She also arranged ribbons, color-coded to signify each classroom, representing a different color in the rainbow, allowing students to highlight something they consider special about themselves, and a ribbon calling attention to a special quality about a classmate who learns differently.

Mrs. Minshall ultimately logged 201 volunteer hours working at home with her glue gun, but for her, it was a labor of love.

At the community meeting, she reminded the students of the goal, thanking them for their contributions to the end result. 

“Our project this year shows our full community coming together, and that we’re no different from each other,” Mrs. Minshall explained. 

“We may have differences that make us special. We learned the word ‘unique,’ which makes us special, and to share our gifts with other people. But even when somebody has challenges, it doesn’t matter. So we learn here at Teaticket to treat everybody with love and respect,” she said.

The students continued to applaud, enthusiastically agreeing and cheering.

Mrs. Minshall has also introduced her initiative to Morse Pond School (where Remy recently completed sixth-grade), working with students in The Learning Center (TLC) on a similar collaboration. Their 2024 project is an eye-catching canvas they decorated, which Mrs. Minshall also affixed with a rainbow of ribbons, serving as a backdrop to the mission statement, “The Morse Pond School Community Celebrates Every Student & Staff’s Unique Qualities & Differences.”  

Mrs. Minshall has witnessed and been told of the lasting impact of the Teaticket initiative on display at Morse Pond; former Teaticket Tigers take it upon themselves to educate their peers about autism, serving as unofficial ambassadors of the project's message of kindness and respect to fellow students who didn’t attend the same elementary school and might not have the same knowledge. 

Principal Sandy Kapsambelis, who begins her new position as Director of Student Services on July 1, underscored the impact of this year's project and Mrs. Minshall’s vision.

“It really speaks to the culture of the school,” Mrs. Kapsambelis said. “Corinne has been supporting our celebrations of Autism Acceptance Month for several years. She’s played such a vital role supporting all of us as we embrace the inclusivity piece. It’s pretty special to us,” Mrs. Kapsambelis said. 

Teaticket Special Education Building Administrator (SEBA) Krista Connelly was brought to tears upon seeing the 2024 project unveiled. 

“I knew the portions that were involved, but I’m speechless. Corinne’s dedication and commitment to supporting our students and encouraging them to be the unique individuals that they are and really embracing how uniqueness is so special is what we believe here at Teaticket. Everyone really is accepted for who they are,” she said. 

“The gasps from all the students and the staff are indicative of how unique and important this project is for our community.”

Mrs. Minshall also serves as a mentor for Volunteers in Public Schools (VIPS) at Teaticket. Her mentee, Mia, was one of the only people who saw the completed project prior to the unveiling. Mia will begin fifth grade at Morse Pond in September, where she will bring her knowledge of autism. 

“I think it was a really good idea to put an infinity sign and to make a rainbow,” she said.

When asked how future Teaticket Tigers will feel when they see the banner, Mia paused for a moment before offering her opinion.

“I think they will feel more welcome.”