School is an important part of a child’s life. It’s where they work, play, and forge relationships with others. However, for many students with autism, school is designed in a way that doesn’t work with their unique way of seeing the world. Parents and guardians of children with autism often struggle in public settings where awareness is limited. Many people don’t understand that a child with autism that is screaming for a toy isn’t spoiled, but instead has executive function deficits that impede the child’s ability to wait, understand cause and effect or communicate frustration. Parents may be faced with disapproving looks and comments which is not helpful during times of stress. So, what can you do to better understand the needs of the child and family?
The Environment has a significant effect on the lives of people with autism.
Autism isn’t simply a series of behaviors, but a spectrum that involves how someone interacts with their world processes stimuli and applies problem-solving skills. When an environment that doesn’t accommodate the student conflicts with the student’s habits and methods, issues tend to evolve. “Oftentimes, people see a child with autism acting out or behaving in a way they don’t understand and think, ‘That’s a bad child’,” said Joanne Sweazey of the Hope Center for Autism. “What they fail to consider are the factors surrounding the meltdown: Is the environment over stimulating, is the child tired, are the guardians using methods designed to work with autistic children, things like that.” While many schools work to modulate their environments so that students with autism can work and play in them, they’re not as fully equipped to control these factors as schools dedicated to working with children with autism are. As educators, our job is to teach self-regulation skills so that the child with sensory needs can tolerate overstimulating situations. In order to learn those skills, the environment must first be predictable and engineered in a way that the child is less anxious and available for learning the strategies needed to cope.
Families struggle with the financial effect of autism including lost wages, high cost for therapy and medication.
Comprehensive school campuses are busy, large and noisy. There are many unpredictable environmental factors that increase the anxiety for the child and prevent optimal learning. For some children with autism, a typical school setting is so offensive that he/she refuses to go to school. This, of course, creates family issues including parents missing work and pay, siblings are late to school and sometimes the child with autism may even become self-injurious. Parents may end up searching for alternatives including private school, private tutors, and therapists or homeschool. All of these alternatives come with a large price tag both financially and emotionally for the family as a whole.
A comprehensive school campus is not specifically designed to meet the needs of a child with autism.
A famous quote says, “Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is inadequate.” The fish has to be in the right environment to show off its talents. Similarly, students with autism thrive in curriculums and classes designed to work with them. However, not every teacher is equipped with the knowledge and background to work with students with autism, leaving them to resort to traditional methods of education. Much like asking a fish to climb a tree, students with autism can quickly feel behind or lost within a curriculum directed at neurotypical students.
Every Child has unique learning needs
There isn’t just one ‘type’ of autism – people with autism land on different ranges of the spectrum, and because of that, have different needs. One student might need a weighted blanket and time alone to calm for self-regulation, while another might require lights and sounds to be motivated to attend. Classrooms on a comprehensive campus have expectations that prevent a focus on the acquisition of splinter skills that prevent the child with autism from fully understanding a concept or subject area. Without the acquisition of skills that are missing from a student’s knowledge base, he or she may not progress successfully. Missing skills in math may lead to a child missing the concept of place value for example which will prevent the student from fully understanding computation. The inability to solve mathematical problems will become a barrier for a child in school and adult life.
This is where the Hope Center for Autism comes in. A unique school designed to accommodate students with autism, The Hope Center uses evidence-based methodologies, continuous progress monitoring, state of the art technology and highly trained staff to provide an optimal program for children with autism in Martin County.
The Hope Center for Autism is a Pre-K through 4th grade public charter school for children with autism and related disabilities. Their mission is to open the doors for people affected by autism and related disabilities by providing the support and services necessary in reaching their full potential. The Hope Center recognizes that the needs of children with autism do not start in prekindergarten and do not end in fourth grade. Community outreach including awareness activities, parent training, social skills groups and a resource center has been developed to provide support for all individuals affected by autism. The Hope Center is dedicated to meeting the needs of all people with autism regardless of age, ability or financial situation. We will continue to grow and meet the ever-changing needs of communities as the increase their awareness and improve their supports for people with autism. There is a desperate need for services including a school in Martin County to meet the increasing needs presented by individuals with autism. This can only be made possible with your support. By making a tax-deductible donation to our capital campaign, you’ll be directly providing hope to individuals with autism. Go to hopecenterfl.com to donate today.