Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)– better known as autism– is a developmental disability that affects 1 in every 68 children in the United States.  Autism can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges for children. Families of children with autism often encounter challenges and require extra support and assistance as their child adjusts to a classroom setting. The Upper Darby School District supports over 1,700 students with special needs each year, 240 of which have been diagnosed with autism.


Photo courtesy of Autism Center of Pittsburgh.

Luckily, this school district has created a welcoming and supportive environment for families affected by autism, due in large part to the efforts of Suzanne McKniff– the district’s Coordinator of Autism Awareness and K-12 behavioral specialist. Suzanne’s outstanding service to the special education community has been recognized by regional service provider Delaware County Intermediate Unit (DCIU).

A longtime advocate of the autism community, Suzanne began her career with a degree in special education.  Her passion for working with the special education community led to an internship at Timothy School– a school strictly for students affected by autism.  She taught pre-school for children who had been diagnosed with autism, and then took a position at Upper Darby School District, where she serves currently. When she began her position she was supporting 1-2 classrooms, but the need for support soon grew, as did Suzanne’s responsibilities.  She transitioned from providing autism support, to acting as a middle school behavior specialist, and is now the school’s K-12 behavioral specialist. During her tenure, she began to connect parents to both other parents and support groups, coordinated a Special Olympics demonstration, and organized the school’s first autism support fair.

Suzanne’s 7 year old daughter Sophia started making pot holders signed, “Made with love and compassion. Love, Sophia.” She donates the proceeds of each sale directly to the Autistic Support Program, which provides money for teachers to buy classroom supplies for students affected by autism. “Often teachers incur out-of-pocket cost to supplement for things the budget doesn’t allow,” says McKniff.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Suzanne will lead the Upper Darby School District’s 6th Annual Autism Awareness Fair, held at Upper Darby High School on Wednesday, April 29, 2015 from 5:00 – 8:00 PM (don’t miss your chance to purchase a pot holder at Sophia’s table “Warm Up to Autism.”).

The event will feature a raffle, a silent auction, Autism Awareness Accessories, food, games and prizes– 100% of the proceeds from this event will be donated donated to the Upper Darby Autistic Support Program. The event will be filled with resources and information displays from support groups and service providers specializing in serving the autism community. This event provides a unique opportunity to enable the community at-large to become more informed, and ultimately more supportive to families affected by the disorder.

Everyone is welcome to attend the Annual Autism Awareness Fair on April 29th. Join the Warm Up to Autism Facebook community and support their campaign to increase autism awareness!