Jon’s Heroes in Training is a program for physical education teacher education (PETE) students to gain experience in meeting the needs of individuals with autism. The program is named after Jon Miskulin who had autism and passed away in 2013.
Miskulin believed that all people have superpowers and, therefore, are heroes. Kids with autism can be perceived as not being connected with the world; however, Illinois State University’s PETE students learn that they do connect with the world, just in a different way. To that end, the PE students develop and facilitate appropriate physical activities that are fun and engaging for the children.
The program first operated during the fall 2018 semester with nine children who are on the autism spectrum and 17 physical education students. This semester, there are 24 children and 26 PETE students. The program occurs in conjunction with the School of Kinesiology and Recreation’s adapted physical education class. Any child between the age of 3 and 22 with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis can enroll in the program, which meets once a week on Mondays from 4 to 5 p.m. or Wednesdays from 5 to 6 p.m., from January 28 through April 17 in 252 McCormick Hall.
The PETE students are under the direction of Professors Mary Henninger (physical education) and Nikki Michalak (special education). Therapeutic recreation students also participate by completing a leisure assessment with the children to raise awareness about recreation and leisure resources in the community. Recently, $2,500 was raised by Heroes Embracing Autistic Lives (HEAL), Inc. to offset program costs related to parking, T-shirts, healthy snacks, and even a graduation ceremony! What great community support for a meaningful program designed to teach autism acceptance!