School helps children with autism make 'giant steps'

February 21, 2010 7:15:12 AM PST
Giant Steps is the oldest private school in Illinois for children with autism. Located in Lisle, the school offers a wide range of educational programs designed to meet the needs of their student population.

Social interaction between children with autism is both essential and challenging. Giant Steps uses a physical education program to help children achieve these goals.

David Geslak is the fitness coordinator at Giant Steps.

"Every class comes three times a week for 45 minutes each session, and we work on everything again from movement, sport group activities, small group activities," Geslak said.

ABC 7 found Geslak working with a group of 5-to-8-year-olds.

"We are working on motor planning, crossing the midline. Those things first. If they can't motor plan, if they can't cross midline of their body, then it is going to be more difficult to engage in sport. So I want to teach them those basic things first and then always incorporate that into every activity we do," said Geslak.

Students from 5 to 21 attend Giant Steps.

"Giant Steps is unique because it is this facility has been designed especially for children with Autism. We understand as much as we know about their behaviors," said Geslak.

Darnell Shareef's 7-year-old son Qadir has been attending Giant Steps for almost two years. He was diagnosed with autism more than three years ago.

"It was devastating. There was a period of denial that me and my wife both went through," said Shareef. "Right around 20 months he was developing typically, and then right around 21 months, he stopped talking. He just stopped communicating altogether. He lost his desire to want to play with other children and interact, so we knew something right around that time was not necessarily right," said Shareef.

Since coming to Giant Steps, Shareef has seen great improvements.

"Qadir's biggest challenge is sensory integration, so the more he is involved physically, the more he is able to have a calm body and a calm mind and attend to whatever task he has been given in a given day," Shareef said.

''We all want things to happen so fast and improve, not only with our children with autism but with ourselves and the individual goals we set for ourselves. But in children with autism it's gonna take a little time, we've just got to be patient. But I've seen a lot of improvement in behavior change, and again that social interaction," said Geslak.

Giant Steps is growing. They currently have 70 students from 29 school districts around the Chicago area.

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