PALS creates joy at Sanderson High School

Richard bounces to the beat during the PALS club Halloween party at Sanderson High School in Raleigh.

Richard bounces to the beat during the Halloween party put on by the PALS club at Sanderson High School in Raleigh.

It was 5:45 p.m. on a Thursday, but the cafeteria of Sanderson High School in Raleigh was abuzz with activity. Teens in togas and tutus flitted back and forth, hanging streamers and taping grinning ghosts and grimacing skulls to the walls. Platters of donated snacks and cupcakes were set out on tables in one corner, and a DJ started pumping out music at the other end of a large space cleared of tables and stools.

By 6:10, a couple of dozen students were already dancing when a tall young man named Richard came bounding in wearing a sailor hat. He headed straight for the DJ, jumping in time to the beat. “He won’t stop bouncing all night,” said one of the chaperoning teachers, who later approached him occasionally to encourage him to drink from a bottle of water.

The student leaders of PALS are Jacquelyn Hedrick, George Sharpe, Taylor Jost, Elizabeth Fortier, Grace Clougherty, Olivia Kleven, Katie Olson, Anna Beavans, Halah Jadallah, Ashleigh Shelor, and Hunter Moore.

The student leaders of PALS are Jacquelyn Hedrick, George Sharpe, Taylor Jost, Elizabeth Fortier, Grace Clougherty, Olivia Kleven, Katie Olson, Anna Beavans, Halah Jadallah, Ashleigh Shelor, and Hunter Moore.

This scene of Halloween joy was the creation of the Sanderson PALS Club. Passing Along Lifelong Smiles is completely student-driven, said Ginger Hamrick, one of Sanderson’s AU-IV teachers. More than 60 students are in PALS, providing friendship and educational support to students in the school’s two self-contained classrooms for students with autism. They also do a social event about once a month, like the Halloween party. Hamrick said these social activities are important, too. The students with disabilities might be past the age when most of society thinks it is appropriate for them to trick or treat, but they still love Halloween. PALS students are always looking for ways to provide joy to the students in the special education classes.

“I could tell you a story about any one of these kids that would bring a tear to your eye,” Hamrick said. She made good on that promise, telling of a PALS member who was receiving about 14 calls a day from one of her students with autism. She told the member that she could talk to her student about not calling so often, but he said it wasn’t necessary. “He’s never had anybody to call before,” he said.

“They’re building friendships,” Hamrick said. Her students learn about things that matter from the PALS members, such as personal space or how to build a relationship. The PALS members play a huge part in Sanderson’s AU program, Hamrick said. “I like them to learn things that they’ll use forever.”

“A unique opportunity”

PALS is unique in that it brings kids from all of the schools’ social groups together, Hamrick said. Some of the PALS members come to eat lunch with her students every day. Jacquelyn Hedrick, the PALS president, comes every morning before school, during lunch, and to act as a teacher assistant for third period. “She is really passionate about these kids,” Hamrick said.

Jacquelyn Hedrick, PALS president, said the Halloween party was one of her favorite events of the year.

Jacquelyn Hedrick, PALS president, said the Halloween party was one of her favorite events of the year. “I think I broke down in tears three times that night just seeing how happy they were.”

Jacquelyn, a junior, started coming to PALS as a freshman even though she had never been around people with special needs and was a little uncomfortable at first. She decided to stay when the students with autism started calling her by name. “I’ve always wanted to reach out and help people, and I’ve been presented with such a unique opportunity,” she said. PALS gives the students who usually are in self-contained classrooms an opportunity to see how their peers without disabilities interact with each other, she said.

Hamrick said that the PALS members recognize that they are benefiting from the group, too. They enjoy getting to know the students with autism and becoming friends over shared interests. “My guys treat everybody like rock stars when they see them in school,” Hamrick said. Who wouldn’t love that?

The PALS Club participated as a team in this year’s Triangle Run/Walk for Autism, and on their team page, Jacquelyn wrote: “PALS Club is often the reason we get out of bed to come to school in the morning and it’s the reason we’re excited to come back over the summer. Spending time with our PALS is the highlight of our day. We have made amazing friendships, but we have also seen our students grow in their social skills through interacting with each other and with PALS. It truly makes a significant difference in our lives and in theirs.” (We thank PALS for raising $1,680, helping even more individuals affected by autism!)

Two rules: Be respectful. Have fun.

PALS has just two rules, Hamrick said. Be respectful. Have fun. “I wanted everyone who was there to be there because they wanted to be,” she said.

Jacquelyn said for her, the most fun is when they all go out into the community like when they attended the State Fair together last week. Parents appreciate all that PALS does for their kids, she said, telling her how grateful they are that their kids are not missing out on experiences, that they look forward to school, and that they have friends.

Last year, the PALS members and Hamrick’s students went to Special Olympics together. Hamrick had T-shirts made, and they all wore the same one. She said the parents of her students with autism were thrilled to have a photo in which it was hard to pick out their children.

2015.10.22.SandersonPALS 015

“The PALS group has become our miracle and the light of my son’s school days for two years now,” said Anthony D’Erasmo. “They are young, inspiring individuals who dedicate their time to our exceptional children. As parents they provide us hope. My son looks forward to having fun every day – and forging lasting friendships. We absolutely love them for all they do, and the smiles they pass along! Thanks to Jacquelyn and all our PALS for all they do. We are so thankful he is in a school that has created such an exceptional program.”

“Ideally, every school would have a program like this,” Jacquelyn said. She said it takes supportive teachers, administrators, and parents for a program to succeed.

Hamrick believes that PALS succeeds because the students were given a chance. “We opened the door and said hey, if you want to come, come,” she said. “Every school is probably full of these kids and they just need an opportunity.”

Sola Coffee Cafe, Sawmill Tap Room, Chick-Fil-A, Moe’s, Starbucks, and Red, Hot, & Blue donated refreshments for the Halloween party. DJ Marcus Ward also donated his services.

Make This Your Child’s Best School Year Yet

school desk

Are you ready for back-to-school time? Or does the mere thought of a new school year make you anxious? The Autism Society of North Carolina is ready to partner with you and your child for a successful school year.

Please take advantage of the resources we offer.

IEP-Toolkit-webToolkits: In the past year and a half, we have introduced easy-to-use, accessible toolkits to guide you through challenging times. Several are on school-related topics: The IEP, Behavior & the IEP, and Bullying. All of these free toolkits can be read online or downloaded and printed:

Autism Resource Specialists: We have 19 Autism Resource Specialists across the state, standing by to consult with you. They are all parents of children or adults with autism themselves, so they have firsthand knowledge and a unique understanding of what you’re going through. They strive to empower families to be the best advocates for their children. Find the Autism Resource Specialist serving your area:

Podcasts: We have recently added podcasts to our list of resources, and one of the first discussions we recorded was “Back to School: What You Need to Know and Do for a Successful Start!” with some of the Autism Resource Specialists. You can check out the complete list of available podcasts here:

Workshops: Our Autism Resource Specialists also share their expertise through workshops, both in-person and online. Some upcoming titles are Autism: Building on Strengths to Overcome Challenges, Preparing for College Starts at Home, and The IEP Process: Building Success for Your Child at School. Find the complete schedule here:

bookstore couponASNC Bookstore: If you are looking for books and videos, our bookstore is the place to go. The ASNC Bookstore is the most convenient place to find the very best autism resources, with over 600 titles. Bookstore staff members are always willing to share recommendations on particular topics. And until Aug. 31, we have a 15% off sale with code BTSS2015. Browse online:

Chapters & Support Groups: ASNC has more than 50 Chapters and Support Groups around the state. Chapters provide a place where you can receive encouragement from families facing similar challenges and share experiences, information, and resources. Look for one near you:

Our blog: Of course, you already know about our blog because you are reading it right now. But have you subscribed? You don’t want to miss the educational posts from our Autism Resource Specialists or Clinical staff. The recent post, “Preparing for a New School Year: Calm Parent = Calm Child,” gives you a checklist of helpful tips. Read it here.

Stay connected: Last but not least, connect with us! Sign up to receive our monthly email newsletters and the twice-yearly Spectrum magazine at Follow us on Twitter and Facebook. We are constantly sharing helpful information, and we don’t want you to miss any of it.

Still have questions? Please contact us so that we can help you find the help you need:

800-442-2762 (NC only)


Autism Society of North Carolina

505 Oberlin Road, Suite 230

Raleigh, NC 27605

Communication is Key!

Editor’s Note – The following post was written by Autism Society of North Carolina Parent Advocate/Trainer Juliette Heim.

For some of our children, the beginning of the school year has already begun, and for others, school is just around the corner. There is often uncertainty, anxiety, and the fear of the unknown that accompanies this transition time, when we leave behind the fun of summer and adjust back into the structure of the school year. The stress and excitement can be overwhelming for families.

As a parent of a child with autism, I would like to share with you some tips and strategies that I have applied over the years that have been helpful in easing much of the tension that accompanies the beginning of a new school year.

I make it a point to meet with each and every new teacher that will be working with my child during the school year. I clear my schedule to accommodate their availability. I want to subtly demonstrate my view of the importance of this meeting without sounding rude or demanding. It is important to set a positive tone for a good teacher/parent relationship. This is key because first impressions can make or break a good teacher/parent relationship. Be flexible but assertive!

If possible, it is always a thoughtful gesture to bring flowers or a small box of chocolates to show your appreciation for the hard work that teachers do.

Be prepared for meetings. Write down your questions and or concerns ahead of time and take notes. Do not be hesitant to ask questions. The only “dumb” question is one that is left unasked if it is of importance to you.

Keep in mind that if your child has an IEP (Individual Educational Program) or a 504 Plan these are designed by ALL team members. Parents and teachers work together on the same team. Team members should keep one another informed of both challenges and progress. Any additions or changes to an IEP or 504 Plan are handled with a group effort.

Follow up with the teacher after each meeting. Remember to thank them, either in an e-mail or a simple thank you card. Teachers, just like all of us, want their hard work to be appreciated and they will remember that you took the time to acknowledge their effort. If you have several topics that were discussed, send an e-mail outlining the conversation, and be sure to thank them for their time and dedication in helping your child to succeed.

IEPs and 504 Plans are outlined on a standardized form, but minutes of team meetings will also be kept by one of the staff. A copy should be presented to you, but if not, request a copy.

Over the years, my child, Logan, has had some very talented teachers, as well as some that just could not “think outside of the box” or did not communicate well with me. I had to be consistent and diplomatic even when it was challenging. I continued to show my appreciation for their efforts. I made adjustments and kept a good stream of communication between us.

A gentle approach works better for any relationship than anger or negativity, and you will be more likely to help your child if everyone is willing to collaborate. Remember the old adage, “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.” Using diplomacy and appreciation, while displaying self-confidence, is a great way to introduce yourself and your child.

As a Parent Advocate for The Autism Society of North Carolina working out of the Asheville office, I am here for you if you have any questions or concerns that you would like to discuss. I can be reached at: or you can call me at my office at 828-236-1547, ext. 1508.

I hope you and your children have a successful start to the school year!

Books on autism make great Holiday Gifts!

There are 1000’s of books out there today about autism, from children’s stories, to novels, to informational materials on how to teach your child with autism, to personal accounts written by adults on the autism spectrum. The variety is endless! There are so many books to choose from that the Autism Society of NC Bookstore has narrowed down the very best books just for you. These top sellers make excellent gifts this holiday season! I’ve categorized them by recipient to make it even easier to find the right book for the right person on your list!

For Children Under 10:
* The Bully Blockers

* Accept and Value Each Person

* Taking Autism to School

For Middle-Schoolers:
* Freaks, Geeks & Asperger Syndrome

* Dude, That’s Rude!

* My Strange and Terrible Malady

For High-Schoolers:
* Communication: What Does It Mean to Me?

* Fighting Invisible Tigers

* Learning Social Skills – A Conversation Workbook

For Adults on the Spectrum:
* Unwritten Rules of Social Relationships

* Ask & Tell

* Life & Love: Positive Strategies
For Parents and other Family Members:
* Growing Up on the Spectrum

* The Boy Who Loved Tornadoes

* Temple Grandin HBO Movie
For Professionals & Teachers:
* Early Start Denver Model for Young Children with Autism

* Inclusion of Students with Autism: Using ABA Based Supports

* Tasks Galore Let’s Play

For Your Neighbors & Friends:
* All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome

* 41 Things to Know About Autism

* Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew

We also carry Bookstore Gift Certificates of various denominations if you just can’t decide what to get for that special person on your holiday list.

Now as a special treat for reading all the way through this blog post I want to let you know that the ASNC Bookstore is offering a 10% discount on all online purchases made from now through Jan. 1st 2011! Just use the coupon code HAPPYHOLIDAYS during checkout! Happy Holidays and Happy Shopping!

~Melanie Adams-Borgen
ASNC Booksore Manager