Chicago Lighthouse day school helps students who are autistic and blind

March 14, 2013 10:05:17 AM PDT
One in 88 children has autism spectrum disorder. Some autistic children have other significant disabilities including blindness.

The biggest challenge for children who are autistic with visual impairments is a lack of vision sense which makes it more difficult to learn.

The Chicago Lighthouse has a therapeutic day school for blind and visually impaired children with other disabilities.

The day school is getting more children with autism, according to the senior vice president/educational services of The Chicago Lighthouse Mary Zabelski. The school is specially equipped to helps these students learn.

"I have doctoral level autistic specialist that works with us and in the classrooms and we have structured teaching environments in the classroom," Zabelski said.

"We find that children who are blind or visually impaired relay on other senses rather than vision primarily their tactical sense and their auditory sense," she said. "But children with autism often have issues with touching things and their listening skills may be deficient."

Jusena Spencer's 19-year-old daughter Ashley has been here for four years. She is autistic and legally blind.

"Her behavior at first was kind of little aggressive, a little antsy didn't want to really communicate," Spencer said. "But since she's been here it's decreased its been excellent I'm extremely proud of her."

Theresa August's son Austin is 10-years-old. He was diagnosed with autism in 2012. He also has mobility issues in addition to his visual impairment.

"He's non-verbal but likes to be in his own little world. He doesn't like to be bothered," August said.

In October 2012, he came to The Chicago Lighthouse because multiple services were not available to him in the public schools.

"He's been here a few months. He's already playing with my other two children. Last night they were rolling around on the floor together playing and that has never happened ever," August said.

The school hopes the skills students learn at the Chicago Lighthouse translate to their lives at home.

"One of the important things we do here, we will work with the parents and show them the skills their children are learning and what they can do to continue with these skills at home," Zabelski said.

For more information about The Chicago Lighthouse and the therapeutic day school click here