Children with autism get extra help with new school entry program


McMaster Children’s Hospital’s new school entry program will support children with autism like Conrad as they transition into kindergarten.

Starting school is an important step for any child. Having extra support during the transition can make children with an autism diagnosis and their parents and guardians more confident to enter the classroom.

The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services recently announced the launch of the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) School Entry Program, a service focused on preparing children with autism to enter school.

Headshot photo of Katherine (Kate) Wood

Catherine Wood

“The McMaster Children’s Hospital Autism Program has been successful in providing this service,” says Katherine Wood, Clinical Lead of the McMaster Children’s Hospital Autism Program, “and we look forward to helping nearly 50 children to make the transition this year. ”

The School Entry Program is a six-month group skills development program for children ages 3-5 who are entering school for the first time, either in Kindergarten or Grade 1. After the program, children will receive transition supports upon entering school to ensure a good start to their educational journey. Families and educators will be able to access counseling services from program staff, upon request, during a child’s first six months in school.

“We are working in partnership with Bethesda, Haldimand-Norfolk REACH, Lansdowne Children’s Centre, Niagara Children’s Center and Six Nations Health Service to provide Ontario Autism Program school entry services for Hamilton, Niagara, Brant, Haldimand-Norfolk, Six Nations. of the Grand River and the Mississaugas of the Credit regions,” says Wood.

Waiting for the program

Conrad on the ground surrounded by books

Konrad

Conrad and Noah will start school in September and have both enrolled in the first offer of the school entrance program.

Conrad’s mother, Catherine, hopes the program will help him learn the routines necessary for a school day, such as queuing, dressing for play outside, taking turns and socializing with peers.

“I would like him to be able to follow simple one-step instructions and be able to communicate his needs to others,” says Catherine. “Some activities Conrad would enjoy in school would be singing nursery rhymes, playing active gross motor games and playing with Play-Doh. I look forward to Conrad progressing through the program.

Noah coloring page

Noah

Noah’s mother, Glenda, also hopes her son will learn the structure of a school routine: sitting down, following activities, washing his hands, putting his lunch box away and putting on his coat and shoes. She hopes he can develop his social skills, like being able to ask for help, take turns and move from activities he likes to ones he doesn’t.

“I am very optimistic about this program because Noah has already developed many skills over the years. He is very good at writing and drawing, but he needs to learn skills to interact with other children,” she says. “I think the skills we are asking him to develop over the next few months before school starts can be supported very well in this group.”

A multidisciplinary team approach

The school entry program began in March 2022 at the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Center at McMaster Children’s Hospital, where the autism program is based. Staff also have the option of meeting children at their home or at the licensed child care center they attend.

“Family and caregivers can choose the model that works best for their child and family,” says Wood.

The multidisciplinary entry-to-school team includes early childhood resource specialists, autism therapists, communication disorders assistants, speech language pathologists, occupational therapists, and clinical coordinators who are board-certified behavior analysts by the council. This approach makes it possible to individualize the program for each child, family and school.

Families who may be eligible for this service receive an invitation letter from the Ministry to enroll in the program.

Families interested in the school entry program can call 905-521-2100 ext. 70019 or email entrytoschool@hhsc.ca.

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