Fredi the Pizza Man’s quest for sensory classrooms for students with autism

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 – He goes by Fredi the Pizza Man – but he’s not just known for his pizza.

In the U.S. one in 59 children are diagnosed with autism. Four years ago, Fredi Bellow’s son was one of them. It was then that Fredi quickly learned how important it was for the kids to be able to use sensory rooms in schools. With his heart leading the way – he decided to do something about it.

“It was hard but I looked at my wife and I said, ‘This is what God wants for us and we’re going to do this.'”

So Fredi went to work. He started a golf outing, and little did he know that the golf outing would lead to more than $20,000 being raised in just two years. He’s now equipped four classrooms into sensory rooms, which are instrumental in the development of children with autism. We visited one of the sensory rooms inside Southfield’s Birney Elementary School.

The school’s physical therapist Fran Roth is the one who first learned of his mission and wrote Fredi a letter.

“I described what we had here and how many people use it, there are three classrooms for special needs in this building and all of them come in here for some free time,” she said.

“Every letter touches me,” Fredi said. “So when I met with them, within 10 minutes we are ordering the stuff.”

Birney Elementary’s Autism Spectrum Disorder’s program director, Michelle Rutledge-Gardner, and her team say what seem like simple toys and contraptions postioned throughout the classroom have made a world of difference for the students, improving their balance coordination and communication.  She showed us one of the pieces of equipment, a webswing.

“The webswing is something they can actually get in and stand up in so, it helps with motor skills it helps to regulate; to self-attain,” she explained. “They are interacting with one another, communicating more, saying, ‘Thank you’; ‘Help me with the ball’; ‘My turn to swing’; many things are coming out.”

“The biggest change I’ve seen is that everyone is talking now,” Roth said. “The kids that came in here with me would look at me and go to one area in the room because there wasn’t a lot of equipment. They run in here and I’ve heard a boy yell, ‘Wow, something new.’ He never talked in setences.

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