School Entry Program in Chatham helps children with autism prepare for the classroom

A new program offered by the Chatham-Kent Children’s Treatment Center is helping young autistic children make the transition to school.

“Children who come to us with developmental needs have so many skills and strengths. It’s up to us to find the strategies and the means to achieve that success,” says Managing Director Donna Litwin Makey.

The school entry program, funded by the provincial government, is for preschoolers on the autism spectrum between the ages of three and six.

“Schools are struggling with some of the transitions,” says Autism Services Coordinator Brian White. “This program will help them work on their school readiness skills and ease the school transition in September.”

Jason, 3, enrolled in the school entry program (courtesy Lisa Campbell)

The six-month program will offer 15 hours per week of personalized learning to its participants.

“We have recess. We’ll do gymnastics and we’ll have a music therapist in the building,” says White. “We are able to go at the speed of the child.

As April is Autism Awareness Month, members of the Chatham-Kent Professional Firefighters Association are raising funds to purchase additional supplies for the school entry program.

“My son didn’t have a program like this. It certainly would have been beneficial,” says firefighter Steve Amblin, whose son has autism.

The firefighters’ association has created T-shirts with designs of colorful puzzle pieces, a symbol of autism.

“The puzzle piece is a representation that the spectrum of autism is very broad and affects people in different ways. Everyone adapts differently,” adds Amblin.

Members of the Chatham-Kent Professional Firefighters Association with their autism t-shirts. (Courtesy of Steve Amblin)