Pilot program simulating school year for autistic children - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Pilot program simulating school year for autistic children

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Sending a child to school for the first time can be a nerve-wrecking time for parents.  Factor in a child with autism and it can be an overwhelming transition for the child and mom or dad.  A pilot program at the St. Nicholas Center for Children in Lake Charles is getting four and five-year-olds with autism ready for school.

The B.A.S.I.C. Training (Be A Star In Class) is a full-blown class simulation program geared at getting children with autism ready for pre-k or kindergarten - whether it is in a mainstream classroom or special education class.  Behavior analyst Tiffany Roberts says the program mirrors an actual school day, "They have different lessons.  We do have small group lessons, we have some independent work.  They also do centers.  They go to lunctogetherer, they will take a nap, have a recess, a P.E."

Roberts says the challenges specific to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can be overcome with early intervention - without it, a child might spend years in separate classes.  "Their behaviors could be it could be self-injury or aggression or just disruption in the classroom.  That would interfere with their learning, as well as the learning of others," she said.

Roxy Lincecum says two years ago, her then three-year-old son Eli was acting aggressively, basically non-verbal and struggling with positive socialization.  "He had a lot of sensory issues, he didn't like to be touched and just was very angry," she said, "so of course he needed to learn to speak, but he needed to learn how to deal with his feelings."

Lincecum did not think her son would be able to be in a mainstream kindergarten class.  Kevin Fontenot had the same concerns for his five-year-old son, Payten, who needed help with the fundamentals of a classroom experience.  "Using scissors, reading sight words, writing words, communicating his needs and his wants, sitting still during lunch time, following in line," said Fontenot.

The B.A.S.I.C. Training offered at the St. Nicholas Center is a full seven-hour school day for children.  It runs five days a week, from September until late July.  "We wanted to end the program with as little time as possible between the end of the program and the time when school starts," said Roberts.

The program takes a daily commitment from caregivers to have their children in the class setting and the investment is something that has transformed both Eli and Payten.  "Two years ago, I thought that we would probably always have to be a caretaker for him in some way," said Fontenot, "today we see him living a very typical life, driving a car, working a job, getting married."

Lincecum was so impressed by the work being done at the St. Nicholas Center that she started working there as an intake coordinator, helping to connect families with the same services that dramatically changed her son's life. 

"Don't lose hope as a parent just because your child has a disability," she said. "Know that they can lead a normal life and they can be in regular school just like mine."

Registration is under way for B.A.S.I.C. Training at the St. Nicholas Center for Children for the school year that begins Sept. 2. Call 337-491-0800 for more information.

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