Pathways Health Centre for Children, located on Murphy Rd. September 3, 2015 ( File Photo by Briana Carnegie)Pathways Health Centre for Children, located on Murphy Rd. September 3, 2015 ( File Photo by Briana Carnegie)

New program helps children with autism transition into school

A new program will help prepare young children with autism for their transition into elementary school.

The school readiness program, at Sarnia's Holy Trinity Catholic School, is in partnership with Pathways Health Centre for Children.

It's geared toward kids, three to five years old, who have been diagnosed as on the autism spectrum, are registered in the Ontario Autism Program and entering school for the first time in either Kindergarten or Grade one.

St. Clair Catholic District School Board Superintendent of Education Lisa Demers said without the Entry to School program, children with autism can sometimes have a difficult time adapting to their new surroundings.

"That's why it's so critical that the key elements of the Entry to School program build on a child's strengths within six domains. Those include communication, play, social interaction, functional routines, behavioural self-management, and then some pre-academics. So, that includes some learning and attention skills."

Beginning this month, 14 children will attend the program for 10 to 15 hours per week.

Demers said it begins with a six-month group-based skill-building focus, followed by six months of transition supports as students enter their home school.

"A number of years ago, we had some processes called 'Connections for Students'," she said. "It was a very similar process where children had opportunities to learn skills and then to be provided with opportunities to transition into school. With some of the changes to the Ontario Autism Program, this is a newer pilot to provide students with this high-intensity level of support and skills so that their school experience will be more successful."

The children will have support from a board-certified behaviour analyst, a behaviour assistant, a special needs resource consultant, a speech-language pathologist, an occupational therapist and an early childhood educator.

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