In New York a school for autistic kids is opening. The school will feature an evidence based, ABA approach, using discrete trial training and also utilizing elements of speech language therapy, occupational and physical therapy, PECS and some elements of TEACCH. The classrooms will be adapted with special computers, monitors and programs. This school appears to be an extension of a successful pre-school program offered by the same HeartShare school. This is an amazing development that is highly unlikely to ever occur in any school district in the Province of New Brunswick.
In New Brunswick over the past 30 years the education of all children has been dominated by a philosophy that dictates mainstream classroom inclusion for all students regardless of their disabilities or abilities. There are exceptions. Some districts and schools have cooperated with parents and allowed autistic children,particularly severely autistic children such as my son, to receive the greatest part of his learning in a separate area with visits from classmates for activities such as reading buddies and with Conor visiting the mainstream classroom for specific defined activities for limited periods of time. By and large though in New Brunswick's education system educators and parents are pressured to place all children in a mainstream classroom whether it is suitable for them or not.
At major events such as the teachers development workshop which was held to review the MacKay Inclusion review process the Department of Education partnered with the New Brunswick Association for Community Living which aggressively promotes the philosophy of mainstream classroom inclusion for all students. Requests by the Autism Society New Brunswick to participate as a partner in the workshop were rejected by the Department of Education notwithstanding the number of autistic children in New Brunswick schools and the severity of the challenges posed in educating them. The NBACL philosophy of total mainstream inclusion is also promoted by the presentation by that organization of awards to teachers who exemplify what the NBACL considers to be best inclusion practices. The mainstream classroom philosophy for all is also well represented by NBACL participation on the Premier's Council on the Status of Disabled Persons and in the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission whose current chair, Dr. Gordon Porter, was instrumental in the implementation of the mainstream classroom for all philosophy in New Brunswick schools and is touted as an expert on the inclusion of students with a disability into regular classes on the commission web site.
With such an entrenched mindset in favor of the mainstream classroom inclusion philosophy I am thankful that school and district educators have, at least to date, cooperated with us in creating an alternative learning arrangement for my son. In the big picture though the emphasis on classroom inclusion has kept many children in the mainstream classroom even when it is not suitable for them. It also makes it extremely unlikely that an option such as a school for autistic school children will ever see the light of day in the Province of New Brunswick.
New school for autistic kids
You hear it again and again—the incidence of autism is on the rise. In fact, according to the latest statistics, 1 in 166 children are diagnosed with autism and reported cases are growing at a rate of 10-17 percent each year.
With all these children needing services, HeartShare Human Services of New York is proud to be responding to the needs of the community by opening its new HeartShare School. This program is for school-age children with autism and mental retardation from all five boroughs.
Located at St. Finbar’s School, 138 Bay 20th Street in Bensonhurst, children ages 5 through 14 are eligible for services.
Scheduled to open in February, this program is unique to Brooklyn in that it will primarily follow the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) approach with the emphasis on discreet trial learning. Some components of the TEACCH methodology and Picture Exchange Communication System will also be used.
Started at the urging of parents who had gone to NY State Senator Martin Golden to seek ABA-based educational services for their children, the program will have five classrooms, each structured with class-room style learning and speech, occupational and physical therapies.
Additionally, each classroom will have adapted computers, touch screen monitors and specialized program software that addresses the learning needs of children with disabilities.
“HeartShare has had a great deal of success teaching children with autism in our four pre-school programs,” noted President and CEO William R. Guarinello. “That is why parents turned to us to start a program for older children. There were no appropriate educational services in Brooklyn for many of these families.”
Golden stated, “I am excited that as a partner with HeartShare Human Services, the dreams of the parents who have approached me seeking the best educational opportunities for their autistic children right here in our community will come true. For too long, Brooklyn’s autistic community has been underserved despite the rising numbers of those diagnosed. In that notion, we are going to provide at St. Finbar’s School a state of the art school that is ready to teach the autistic children of our community. We have done a unique and important thing in the planning and establishment of this school. In doing so, we will make better the lives of many now and in the future, for through HeartShare, they will receive an excellent and solid education.”
When at full capacity, The HeartShare School will provide full-day educational services to 48 children. “We still have open placements,” said Carol Verdi, vice president of Educational Services at HeartShare.
“Children from all five boroughs are eligible, but must be on the Pending Needs list through the Central Base Support Team within the New York City Department of Education. HeartShare is excited about the opening of this new program to meet the needs of students in the community.
“Families have been an integral part of the planning process,” said Verdi, “and we will ensure that they remain involved as we move forward.”
For more information about The HeartShare School, contact HeartShare Human Services at 718-323-2877 or visit www.heartshare.org.