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School: Sebastian River High School

Area of Specialization:

County: Indian River



Karen Nystrom moved to Florida with her family from the Chicago area twenty years ago. She has three children and has been married for 39 years. Her oldest daughter graduated for the University of Chicago and is now an ESE case manager at a charter school in Chicago. Her youngest daughter attends Hunter College in NYC and is working toward a degree in geophysical science. Her son, who is her oldest child, is a 29-year-old young man with autism.

Karen graduated from Dominican University in River Forest, IL with a degree in Communications and Psychology. After graduating, she worked for Allstate Insurance as an auto claims adjuster for several years. She later made a dramatic career change to education and taught for 7 years at a K-8 Montessori school which was experimenting with enrolling students with disabilities. This was an innovative and remarkable program because the 70's did not offer many inclusive educational opportunities for students with disabilities.

Karen's first child was born in 1983. He was diagnosed very early with ASD, so she left work to become a full time parent and advocate. She and her husband were fortunate to find an early intervention program that their son began attending at 13 months. He was enrolled in a regular Pre-K at 3 and began attending the first full inclusion kindergarten in the district at 5. Their son remained fully included throughout early elementary school with the support of a one-on-one aide.

Karen's move to Florida was motivated by her husband's career. They hoped to continue the success they had with inclusion and expected that their new school district would be aware of the movement toward mainstreaming. With the committed assistance of CARD – USF Tampa, they were able to persuade their district to include their son in a general education classroom with an aid. He graduated from high school in 2006 and now lives independently in his own home with 24 hour support.

When her youngest daughter left for college, she enrolled in the Indian River State College EPI program. Her goal was to become a teacher of students with ASD. Her first position was in St. Lucie County as a support facilitator. She now works at Sebastian River High School as teacher of students with autism in a self-contained classroom. She has been active in parent support groups and participates in the Family Care Council of District 15.

Her passion remains inclusion because she has seen how important it has been in her son's life. She hopes that by participating as a PEPSA fellow she will be able to find ways to increase inclusive opportunities for her students. Her certifications are in the following areas: Social Science (6-12), Exceptional Student Education (K-12), Middle Grades Integrated Curriculum (grades 5-9), with an Autism Spectrum Disorders Endorsement.

PEPSA Partner: Proposed Project (2012)

Project Description:


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This product was developed by the Partnership for Effective Programs for Students with ASD, a project funded by the State of Florida, Department of Education, K-12 Public Schools, Bureau of Exceptional Education and Student Services, through federal assistance under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Part B.