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Student gives back to peers

8-year-old Patrick Sweeney helps out in the classroom for autistic first- and second-graders

Posted: June 29, 2009 9:56 p.m.
Updated: June 29, 2009 9:53 p.m.

Helmers Elementary School student Patrick Sweeney has taken the initiative to help students with autism in his school during their Adaptive Physical Education class. Sweeney has donated books, toys and a wagon to carry their A.P.E. equipment.

Helmers Elementary School teacher Elaine Ahad had a unique helper in her classroom this past school year: 8-year-old Patrick Sweeney.

Patrick gave up his story time each day to help out with activities for her austistic first- and second-grade students in special day classes.

During the school week, Patrick was granted permission for 30 minutes toward the end of the day to take part in learning and interactive activities with Ahad's students, who have mild to severe autism.

"He is so great with the kids," Ahad said. "He will talk to them usually when the kids are working at centers. He will make sure that they are doing their work and he will keep them on track when we are walking in groups.

"With autism this is a huge thing because the students do not like to interact with their peers - they want to kind of be with themselves. Patrick has the ability to pull them out of that," she said.

Patrick has also been involved in Helmers' Adapted Physical Education program, a modified course designed for students who are unable to meet the traditional physical education standards.

By using his personal allowance money, Patrick purchased Otter Pops frozen treats and sold them to raise money for supplies for the program.

With the extra money left over from the fundraiser, Patrick purchased a cart for the program's teacher, Kristen Cobb, who travels to multiple schools.

"He has a big heart," Cobb said. "The initiative that he took ... is rare to find in a boy his age. I wasn't expecting for him to get me anything. To even think to buy me something, as well, was so thoughtful."

As an appreciative gesture for all of his hard work, Cobb presented Patrick with an engraved picture frame "Patrick Sweeney APE Assistant 2009" with a photo of Patrick and one of the students he has helped the most.

"I told him that he should become an (Adapted Physical Education) teacher himself," Cobb said. "But he would rather be an astronaut. He's going to try to be an (Adapted Physical Education) teacher on the side."

On top of his contributions to the school, Patrick has made sure that his family is involved with helping Helmers' students with special needs.

"His father Ed and I have learned so much from him," mother Brandy Sweeney said. "He's even opened his sister's eyes to be more accepting. This has been a wonderful experience for all of us."

Autism complications, such as unique social interaction with others, along with sensory issues, tend to make children with autism misunderstood. Patrick, on the other hand, thinks that the children in Ahad's classroom are just like any other student.

"They can do work and it's not like their hands don't work or anything like that," Patrick said. "They can write and they can talk a little bit. ... They still like the same games and things that the normal Helmers students like."

As a Cub Scout, Patrick is used to assisting those in need and strongly encourages others to help out others with autism.

"It's an open job to help kids with autism," he said. "You may not get paid for it, but you feel good inside. It takes the bad part out of your day and puts the good part in your day."

When it comes to helping others, Patrick will always be alert to help those in need.

"A person is a person no matter what," Patrick said. "I don't care if a person has autism or Asperger (syndrome). If a person needs help, you should help them."


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