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The arrest last week of two St. Mary’s teenage girls on charges of assaulting an autistic boy from their school brought widespread public attention, as well as posted comments on autism and the perspective of a support group’s leader.

Terri Griest, president of the Autism Spectrum Support Group of Southern Maryland, said its members don’t know the teenage boy involved in the case that came to light last week, and can’t comment on it. But she said that online comments on social media and other websites have ranged from supportive to riddled with misconceptions.

“There’s a lack of understanding of what it means to be a person with an autism spectrum disorder,” Griest said this week from her Great Mills home. “Cognitive ability, [or] IQ, does not equate to social understanding. No matter where you are on that autism spectrum, you have a social impairment.”

She added, “We know that with our children, they are increasingly vulnerable to being victimized, ... [through] bullying, teasing, harassment [and] assault.”

Interacting and getting along with peers throughout life can be a give-and-take process with a steep learning curve, but Griest said children with autism face additional challenges doing that.

“It would be a question of their understanding of the situation that’s presented to them,” she said, “of what it means to be a friend, what true friendship looks like [and] how to advocate for themselves.”

Hospital to celebrate Doctors’ Day

MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital will celebrate National Doctors’ Day on Friday, March 28, thanking skilled men and women who dedicate their lives to the practice of medicine, including the hospital’s medical staff. The celebration will include a breakfast, a gift and proclamations from the St. Mary’s County commissioners and the Leonardtown Council.

The first Doctors’ Day observance was held on March 30, 1933. It is celebrated to commemorate the anniversary of the first use of general anesthetic in surgery on that same date in 1842, by physician Crawford Long.

Sing, play March 28 in Chaptico

The Southern Maryland Traditional Music and Dance HomeSpun CoffeeHouse will sponsor an Open Mic on Friday, March 28, at Christ Church’s parish hall at 37497 Zach Fowler Road in Chaptico. The doors will open at 7 p.m., and performers are admitted free. Light refreshments will be provided. For additional information, or to sign up to perform, contact John Garner by sending email to garner@wildblue.net, or calling 301-904-4987. For more information, go online to www.smtmd.org.

Get pork, beef March 29 & 30 in Avenue

American Legion Post 221 is sponsoring a pork loin and beef sandwich sale from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, March 29 and 30, at 21690 Colton’s Point Road in Avenue. For more information, call 301-884-4071.

Vowell to give April 11 Twain lecture

The eighth annual Mark Twain Lecture at St. Mary’s College of Maryland will be “An Evening with Sarah Vowell” at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, April 11, at the Michael P. O’Brien Athletic Center Arena.

Vowell is the author of six nonfiction books on American history and culture, and she appears regularly on “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” She also was the voice of teen superhero Violet Parr in Pixar’s “The Incredibles.”

Crafters sought for Leonardtown shop

The Craft Guild of St. Mary’s County is looking for skilled crafters to join the cooperative of juried members who volunteer their time to operate their shop in Leonardtown.

The guild particularly is seeking creators of metal and clay sculpture, weaving, fiber weaving, pottery and photography to continue a long time tradition of promoting artists and American-made products. Interested crafters may bring in three handmade items to be judged any day of the week, except Mondays, to see if it fits the venue of the shop, located at 26005 Point Lookout Road. For more information, call 301-997-1644 or go online to www.craftguildshop.com.

Sheriff seeks feedback on encounters

The St. Mary’s sheriff’s office recently began mailing out questionnaires to individuals who have encounters with the agency’s deputies, to let the citizens rate how they felt those interactions went and take part in a National Police Research Platform’s Police Community Interaction Survey administered by the University of Illinois in Chicago.

The collected data is intended to establish new benchmarks for excellence in policing, and thus help to improve the quality of police services delivered to a community. St. Mary’s sheriff’s office is one of about 100 agencies participating in the national program. Participating agencies will be able to use the survey data to monitor their performance and improve their training programs.

The mailed survey is available in Spanish and English, and can be taken either online or by telephone. The online survey can be accessed through a computer or by scanning a QR code with a smart phone or tablet device. Each letter from the sheriff’s office will include a special code needed to participate in the survey, to ensure only one survey is completed from each encounter.

The sheriff’s office said the information submitted by those who participate in the survey will not be used in other ways. None of the survey information will be collected by the sheriff’s office, since all survey responses will be managed by the university’s researchers. The results provided to the agency will not include any information identifying the individual responding to the survey or the deputy involved in the contact.

Police encounters involving traffic accidents and traffic stops, as well as most non-violent crimes, will be part of the survey. However, police encounters resulting from domestic violence or sexual assault or involving juveniles will not be surveyed.

For more information, call the National Police Research Platform staff at 312-996-0764, or send email to uicnprp@gmail.com.

Register by May 16 for LEAD class

Leadership Southern Maryland and Maryland Leadership Workshops have partnered for a fifth year to offer rising 10th, 11th and 12th graders from Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties a chance to delve into the facets of leadership during a four-day, three-night summer camp experience.

Through activities and lessons, LEAD delegates are able to sharpen problem-solving skills, and hone communication and presentation skills. A staff of young professional guides the camp participants through hands-on workshops and projects with help from mentors who share their real-world experiences. Teamwork and friendships are forged between teens from varied cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, across county lines.

The program includes downtime for delegates to enjoy bonfires and hang out on the waterfront campus of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The participants use the college’s dorms, cafeteria and recreation center during their stay. A limited number of scholarships are available. For more information or to register online, visit the program’s website at www.lsmlead.org. The application and registration deadline is May 16. Additional information also is available by calling 240-725-5469 or sending email to leadsomd@verizon.net.

Eat Italian food, play bocce on May 18

The Golden Beach-Patuxent Knolls Civic Association, in cooperation with the Ferrante family, is sponsoring a second Italian Festival to benefit the Joseph C. Ferrante Memorial Scholarship Fund, to be held from 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, May 18, at the Mechanicsville Moose Lodge at 27636 Mechanicsville Road.

A silent auction will begin at 2 p.m., followed at 4 p.m. by a live auction. There also will be outdoor activities including bocce, games for children, face painting and a playground.

Tickets must be ordered in advance by May 4, by going online to www.josephferrantefoundation.org, or calling Dale Antosh 301-884-5478 or Jean Marie Ferrante Burke at 240-925-9515.

BeerFest to return June 21

The fourth annual BeerFest will be held at the Historic St. Mary’s City Museum from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, featuring the music of John Luskey, The 25th Hour Band and the Justin Myles Experience, and beverages from craft brewers such as Ruddy Duck, Brewers Alley and The Raven.

There will be tours of Van Sweringen’s Ordinary, one of the first taverns of the colony, along with a beer-making demonstration and a cider-making demonstration. Artisans will have select offerings for sale, and fun activities for children may be found at the Kid’s Tent.

The event is a fundraiser to support the education and research activities of the museum. Festival goers can arrive on foot, on a boat, in a car or by swimming to the site. Designated drivers get in for half the admission fee. Parking is free. For more information, call the Historic St. Mary’s City Foundation at 240-895-4977, send email to SusanE@DigsHistory.org or go online to www.stmaryscitybeerfest.org.

Register for writers’ conference

Writers may practice their craft on the shores of the St. Mary’s River this summer at the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

The week of craft talks, lectures, panel discussions, and readings in July also will include daily workshops in fiction, poetry, or creative nonfiction led by accomplished faculty. This year, the conference will be offering course credit for interested college students.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. For more information, go online to the Chesapeake Writers’ Conference website at www.smcm.edu/summer/writing/ or send email to Jerry Gabriel, the conference’s director, at chesapeakewritersconference@smcm.edu.

jwharton@somdnews.com