The diligent work put forth by Calhoun Middle School Exceptional Student Services (ESS) teacher Justin Lindsey to make a difference in the lives of local students dealing with autism and autism spectrum disorder was recognized as he was named the North Georgia Educator of the Year at the North Georgia Autism Conference on Friday, Oct. 20.
Autism and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
Lindsey, who also serves as the head coach of the Calhoun High School cross country team, has worked with students that struggle with complications stemming from these disorders, both inside and outside of the classroom. Last December, Lindsey partnered with local parents and family members of autistic students to form the support group Calhoun Autism Network (CAN), which helps point those affected by the disorders in the direction of helpful resources in the area.
The third annual North Georgia Autism Conference, which took place at the Dalton Convention Center and is sponsored by the Northwest Georgia Healthcare Partnership along with several other organizations, aimed to provide educators, parents and other young adults with the advocacy and resources needed to
help local individuals continue dealing with these disorders.
In addition to informative speakers and presentations, the conference decided to honor a Volunteer of the Year and Educator of the Year for the first time this year. Scott Kremer, who is on the board of the Autism Society of Georgia, was selected as Volunteer of the Year. Lindsey took home Educator of the Year recognition, which was both a special honor and a little bit of a shock for him.
"To be quite honest, the selection and honor came as a complete surprise," Lindsey said. "The selection was due to efforts in the classroom and the recent success of our local support group, the Calhoun Autism Network. It is an honor to be chosen for an award in education, especially when one considers the amount of high quality teachers we have at Calhoun and in north Georgia."
"It makes it more special when it brings light to the efforts of our members at the Calhoun Autism Network and local teachers. We have many teachers, parents and community members who work diligently to help our community."
It isn't just the North Georgia Autism Conference that has observed the efforts of Lindsey. The Calhoun Middle School administration and his colleagues have also acknowledged how important of an asset he has become to the school system and how well deserved this recent honor is.
"Justin Lindsey is an outstanding advocate for students with special needs, and we are extremely proud to have him represent our school system and community as the North Georgia Autism Conference Educator of the Year," Calhoun Campus Principal Peter Coombe said.
"In all things, Justin goes above and beyond the call of duty and we are pleased that his hard work is being recognized by others who share his passion for serving students with autism and other unique abilities."
Lindsey credits his this accomplishment and success in the classroom with his ability to form genuine personal connections with individuals of all ages that he interacts with, something he hopes others in the community strive to accomplish going forward. He learns just as much from the students as they learn from him.
"By working in my position inside and outside of the classroom, I learn something on a daily basis from a student or parent that has a positive influence on my perspectives and allows me to grow as an educator," Lindsey said.
"I have learned that the success of your classroom is highly dependent upon building positive relationships with students, parents, and colleagues. Luckily, Calhoun City Schools embraces the idea of a strong connection to the community. We should all be excited about the potential we have to make a difference in the near future."