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West Decatur Elementary kindergarten student George Sales was so excited when he saw his paint-blot butterfly that he shouted, 'Awesome.' He is one of the elementary school students helping with the autism awareness project.
Daily photo by John Godbey
West Decatur Elementary kindergarten student George Sales was so excited when he saw his paint-blot butterfly that he shouted, "Awesome." He is one of the elementary school students helping with the autism awareness project.

8,000 butterflies
Decatur students' project
gives wings to autism awareness

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

Wendy Ellis wants to do more than raise money.

She wants those who attend the Decatur Storm Autism Awareness Tournament to understand the disability and know the extent to which it reaches across Alabama.

Taking from a song her son, Brett, and Seth Roddy wrote about her autistic daughter, she thought butterflies — 8,000 to be exact — would be the perfect way to represent each of the state's autistic children. She decided to hang them throughout Wilson-Morgan Park at the third annual travel baseball tournament April 20-22.

"The song is about giving them wings and that, if you give them the resources and supply their needs, an autistic child can do what any other child can do. They just need to be taught another way," said Ellis, whose husband, John, is a Decatur Storm baseball coach.

She knew, however, that 8,000 butterflies were too many for one woman to make, so she turned to Somerville Road Elementary, where she knew they understand autism. Her daughter, Brayden, is autistic and is in the school's developmental program.

Ellis said 8-year-old Brayden has trouble speaking, usually only speaking when prompted. She didn't eat solid food until she was 5. She's sensitive to loud noises. Fortunately for the Ellis family, Brayden doesn't mind human touch.

"She loves getting hugs and kisses," Ellis said.

Brayden is in an inclusion class, learning with other students who aren't disabled, but her mom said the teachers and students have always been understanding and patient with her daughter. She said her classmates are constantly helping her do things like stand in line at lunch or in the restroom.

Ellis asked the perfect pair, elementary art teachers Tammie Jacob and Linda Miller, to help her accomplish her goal.

Always looking for class projects, the two agreed. Jacob teaches at Somerville, West Decatur and Walter Jackson, and Miller teaches at Benjamin Davis and Leon Sheffield. They figured that between their five schools they could easily conquer the project, but they admit now that that 8,000 butterflies are more than they expected. They began in February and are still making butterflies.

They turned to the other elementary art teachers, who enlisted their classes. Church groups and home-school children even got into the burgeoning project. Middle school and high school students are cutting out and laminating the butterflies and will help hang them before the tourney.

"This really became a citywide project," Jacob said.

Ellis said she couldn't believe the response she got from her request for help.

"Everyone just gladly pitched in," she said.

Art teachers had their students make the butterflies in a variety of art styles such as texture rubbings, stain glass designs using tissue paper, drawing and tiling. The youngest students learned to trace, glue, cut and follow the lines.

Jacob said the project included a lesson on symmetry and how the shapes and colors of a butterfly are the same on both wings.

"They study butterflies in second grade, so this went well with that lesson and the third and fourth grades could really identify with them," Jacob said.

The project provided the opportunity to teach the students about autism and dealing with children with disabilities. They learned that there are different levels or spectrums of autism, including touching. Some autistic children do not like to be touched.

Somerville Road third-grader Latavia Spangler was particularly enthusiastic about the project. She made a butterfly with purple, red and pink and one with red and pink, her favorite color.

"It's kind of sad," Spangler said of autism. "They (autistic children) aren't the same as us, but they're still a human person. I wanted to make the butterflies because they're for someone special."

The women can't wait to see the butterflies hanging in Wilson-Morgan Park. They hope the more than 40 teams understand and appreciate their work.

"It's going to be so impressive," Jacob said.

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