The Hamilton Elementary LINKS (Learning, Involvement, Networking, Kindness, Support) program is in its third year and is reaching new heights. What initially started with a lack of student peers in the program has turned into an overabundance of LINKS looking to assist.

"We only had a couple students that would sign up to be a LINK when we started the program because nobody really knew what it was," said ASD teacher and LINKS coordinator, Amy Bufka. "Now, we have whole classrooms that are signing up."

The program's growth has spread far beyond the few monthly scheduled meetings between the ASD student and their LINKS. These friendships are now growing on the playground, in classrooms, in the lunchroom, and outside of school.

"It's so important because the kids with autism just want friends like everybody else, and they want to be included, they just don't always know or have the capabilities to ask to join in on activities," Bufka added.

4th grade student Annie Slagh has loved being a part of the program and assisting the ASD students. On Tuesday, her and two other LINKS joined their classmate Cole for a half an hour scheduled meeting where they learned more about what they have in common and played games together.

"They're not much different than us," Slagh added. "I can share my interests with them because we like the same things, and neither of us like the loud cafeterias."

With eight students in Amy Bufka's ASD program this year, and a few fourth graders as well, they're excited to grow upon their friendships at Hamilton Middle School and beyond.

"It's really important because we need to know how to interact with each other," said Slagh, "If you learn how to interact at a young age, we will know how to communicate when we're adults."

Throughout April, Hamilton Elementary is celebrating Autism Awareness Month and bringing recognition to the ASD students. In the hallways, students have enjoyed reading 'Fact/Myth' cards about autism and learning how to be inclusive of everybody at their school.