Valhalla, NY (Vocus) September 13, 2010
Responding to the growing need for services for children with autism or other spectrum disorders, Blythedale Children’s Hospital is now offering an Early Intervention Autism Program designed to teach young children important communication skills at a crucial time in their lives.
“This new program is significant for several reasons,’’ said Larry Levine, President and CEO of Blythedale Children’s Hospital. “Not only is Blythedale able to provide these children with a customized program, uniquely designed to meet the very specific needs of this younger population; but we are also able to offer parents an unparalleled level of confidence and security that comes from having such a high level of medical expertise on site.’’
Blythedale’s program meets five days a week in two, half-day classes. It serves children from 18 months to three years of age who have been identified with a spectrum disorder including autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder, childhood disintegrative disorders, communications disorders or Rett’s Syndrome. The program was developed in coordination with faculty from Teachers College, Columbia University and is regulated by the New York State Department of Health and the Westchester County Department of Health.
The program is taught by Kimberly Simon, a special education teacher for students with disabilities and an expert on autism. Ms. Simon holds a Master’s Degree in Intellectual Disabilities and Autism from Teachers College, Columbia University.
Ms. Simon said it is important for children with spectrum disorders to be taught in a structured environment where they can get plenty of one-on-one attention. She noted that children who are diagnosed with spectrum disorders often have difficulty communicating with others. They may miss social cues and become easily frustrated at their inability to make their needs known. Changes in routine may also be upsetting to them, causing them to act out in disruptive ways.
With one out of every 110 children in this country diagnosed with autism or other spectrum disorders, the need for early diagnosis and early intervention programs for children as young as 18 months continues to grow. For parents, a structured environment specifically designed for children on the spectrum, with low teacher-child ratios is very important.
Ms. Simon added that since some children with autism also have seizure disorders it is comforting to parents to have a program within a medical setting. “It’s very reassuring to know that you have the best in medical services right there if you need them,’’ she said.
Ms. Simon uses a number of proven methods and techniques to engage children and teach them communications skills. Transitions can also be difficult for children on the spectrum so providing structure between activities is important.
The classroom is divided into centers that focus on building skills; a sensory area, a play area, an individual work area and a fine motor skills area. Children return to a “home base” between activities to help ease the transition. Picture schedules are also used as visual prompts for added support.
Abilities in children on the spectrum vary widely so proper evaluation is key to providing the right services for each child. Children are evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team that may include therapists, physiatrists, neurologists, early education teachers, social workers, and other specialty consultants. Following the evaluation, an individual plan is developed for each child by an Early Intervention Initial Services Coordinator, the County Department of Health, member of the evaluation team and the parent.
The team works closely with the parents to try to replicate work that is done with the child in class to achieve the best results. Often parents like to observe what we are doing in the class so they can achieve the same results at home.’’ Likewise, teachers communicate daily with speech, occupational or physical therapists who may also be working with the children to transfer concepts and build on skills.
Ms. Simon said she is very encouraged by the results that can be achieved when there is intervention at an early age. “To see a child start to communicate and interact in even the smallest way is so gratifying and to see them overcome those challenges is just amazing,’’ she said.
The Max and Victoria Dreyfus Foundation, along with other charitable organizations, assisted in funding for the development and furnishing of the classroom for Blythedale’s Early Intervention Autism program.
For more information about Blythedale’s programs, contact Lisa Petrucelli, Coordinator of Early Childhood and Outpatient Programs at (914) 831-2454.
About Blythedale Children’s Hospital:
Founded more than 100 years ago, Blythedale Children's Hospital has been a leader in developing innovative, multi-disciplinary inpatient and ambulatory programs, as well as a community resource for children with a variety of medical concerns. Through its inpatient, day hospital programs and outpatient programs, Blythedale Children’s Hospital treats more than 300 children daily, making it one of the largest children's services in New York State. Because of the unique and comprehensive array of pediatric programs and services, children and families come to Blythedale from the tri-state region and beyond. For more information about Blythedale Children’s Hospital visit http://www.blythedale.org.