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Special Needs? No Problem.

August 27, 2010

By W. James Edminson

Chase and Dustin are four years old. They sit and play on their classroom floor at BCH’s Fleshman-Pratt Education Center in Thomasville. Dustin is chattering with his peers while Chase is silently, but energetically playing with a toy train.

At first glance, the duo attending BCH’s Weekday Education program appear free of any developmental disability. But a closer examination reveals they face some daunting challenges.

Chase and Dustin are children with autism.

“Our Weekday Education program does not shy away from serving families whose children may have special needs,” director Linda Russo says. “We strive to meet all of our children’s needs while helping children with special needs to successfully face their individual challenges.”

The Autism Society states that: Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first two years of life and is the result of a neurological disorder impacting development in the areas of social interaction and communication skills.

“We develop methods to help children with autism while minimizing any negative impact derived from a classroom environment,” Russo explains. “A child with autism is included in all aspects of the daily experience.”

Depending on the child’s level of autism, a child will have different needs. Russo says, if needed, a staff member will shadow a child. The staff member helps the child to progress at his or her own pace.

If a child responds better through visual direction, pictorial schedules or pictures matching activities are used to communicate.

“Dustin and Chase will continue to face challenges as they grow older,” Russo says. “But with the right services and support, children with autism can grow up to live full and healthy lives.”

The awareness of autism grows every day. So do the number of diagnoses. Today, autism affects an estimated 1 in 100 births. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other governmental agencies, autism is growing at a startling rate of 10-17 percent per year. At this rate, the Autism Society estimates that the prevalence of autism could reach 4 million Americans in the next decade.

“Like with other life challenges,” Russo asserts, “it is important to be well informed and proactive.”