Easter Seals school for autistic children

CHICAGO This kind of educational program is essential to meet the growing autistic population. Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago opened their new therapeutic day school for children with autism spectrum disorder this September.

What makes this school unique is the people involved, says school administrator Nicole Davenport.

"At the beginning of the development, the architects built a mock up classroom, for example, and we were able to take our students and our clients over to mockup classrooms," said Davenport. "We were able to observe them in the environment, get their feedback when they were able to give us some feedback, and from that we made some modifications."

One-hundred children, from ages 7 to 21, mostly from Chicago Public Schools, are enrolled.

"They must have a primary diagnosis of autism, emotional disability, cognitive or developmental delay, and their IEP must state that a therapeutic day placement is a least restrictive environment," said Davenport.

It is a calming environment with adaptive classrooms designed to accommodate different children with autism.

"We have classrooms that have five students and four staff," Davenport said. "There may be a teacher and three individual aids. There might be a classroom with nine students, seven to nine students, and two staff."

Margaret and Peter Martin's 8-year-old son Noah goes to school here. He was diagnosed with autism at 3.

"He lined up his toys instead of played with them, he had very limited eating skills," said Margaret Martin ."He liked to watch a lot of television and watch things over and over again."

Noah started in the Chicago Public Schools. He came to Easter Seals last year.

"Because he had huge behavior issues, he went to three schools in four months," Martin said.

Since coming to Easter Seals, his parents have seen a complete turnaround.

"His behavior has really turned around," said Martin ."He has his good days, he has his off days, yesterday was actually -- we got a note it was, you know, his behavior was up 50 percent."

This is the first phase of four.

"The second phase will be the addition of a gym and pool. The third phase will be an extension of the school additional classrooms, additional therapy rooms so we can increase our enrollment, and then the fourth phase is a residential component," said Davenport.

When asked about the school, 16-year-old Joshua says, "It's cool."

Easter Seals has had a therapeutic day school program for autism children for many years. For more information go to www.eastersealschicago.org.

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