Teacher's work with students, police wins Autism Educator Award

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Carmen Ruggieri has been teaching special education as well as being an autism advocate in Cranston for the past 24 years.

 Recently, her childhood friend and former classmate, Lieutenant Mark Freeborn of the Cranston Police Department, nominated her for the Rhode Island Autism Educator of the Year Award.

 The award, created to recognize and celebrate the tremendous work that goes on daily in special education, is presented by the Paul V. Sherlock Center on Disabilities at Rhode Island College. “Over the past two years, I have consulted with him to provide Autism Awareness training and create an Autism Registry System,” Ruggieri said of Freeborn.

 The nomination form discussed six specific areas that the nominees had to be proficient in. They look at the dedication, knowledge and skills. How they inspire children, youth and families of all backgrounds and abilities. Are their communication skills effective? Do they have the ability to demonstrate that all children and youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can learn?

 Freeborn felt the need to recognize Ruggieri and her dedication after they reconnected through the Cranston Police to provide Autism awareness training to officers.

“I needed someone that was not only knowledgeable, but would be able to capture the importance of dealing with persons with ASD,” he said in the nomination letter.

 The training needed to educate and equip officers on how to safely handle a call for service, and to effectively provide those services while being able to reduce the amount of stress caused by their response. 

“Carmen understood our needs, and was able to provide this training. It was during these trainings that she began a dialogue in establishing a voluntary ASD registration program,” Freeborn said. 

She explained the need for such a program, and how beneficial it could be to not only families but to law enforcement members as well.

“Her vision for the program would be to provide first responders with critical information prior to responding to calls for service. The ultimate goal of the program would be to create a more positive interaction with first responders,” he said.

Freeborn commended on her commitment to create the ASD registry.

“Her dedication to the children whom are diagnosed with ASD was clearly evident. Her determination was fed with every hurdle she faced when told that a registration program not be possible,” he said.

In October 2017, the CPD established its first AD registration program.

“The program’s enrollment is totally voluntary, and although was meant to be for children, due to Carmen’s diligence was opened to adults as well,” Freeborn said.

East Principal Sean Kelly was delighted to hear of Ruggieri’s recognition accomplishment.

“Carmen Ruggieri in an integral part of the Cranston East community. Not only as a teacher, but advisor and friend. She has helped raise awareness for ASD and I couldn't be any prouder for her to receive this award,” he said.

According to Freeborn, “Our first responders went through the training in 2016 and all new officers receive Autism awareness training when they attend the Academy.  There have been 11 enrolled so far this school year,” he said.

The information for enrolling can be found at www.cranstonpoliceri.com.

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