Local group explains NS autism resources | The Winnetka Current

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By Alexa Burnell, Staff Writer – May 20, 2014
22nd Century Media

The Parent Association for Student Services 39 hosted Autism Resource Night on May 13, inviting representatives from community organizations and parents outside of Wilmette, to learn about summer programming and after-school opportunities for children with special needs.

“PASS 39 is a parents group that works with the district to discuss resources available in the schools,” PASS 39 President Nancy Hoying said. “Tonight our goal is to go broader by inviting external experts to show parents what else is available for our children outside of school, and by inviting families outside of Wilmette.”

Approximately 30 parents from Wilmette, Evanston, Winnetka and Chicago listened as five organizations discussed programming, easing parent concerns about lack of extracurricular activities.

“The school district does a wonderful job of providing resources for our children while they are at school, but many feel there are limited resources for summer or after school activities,” Hoying said. “At the same time, I have organizations reaching out to me, asking how they can get the word out about what they offer. I hope tonight both parents and these organizations can learn more about one another.”

The Autism Family Center located in Winnetka discussed its multi-disciplinary approach, combining Applied Behavior Analysis with the family systems method of therapy. They focus on the family as a whole, rather than the individual. Along with behavioral therapy, they include art and play therapy while building a community for families of children with special needs.

“Therapy is great, but building a community center revolving around book readings, movies and speakers can do more for these families than therapy alone,” President and cofounder Lauren Rabin said. “Eighty percent of what we offer is outside of school, on weekends and during the summer or after school hours.”

The Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association discussed its partnerships with the Wilmette Park District, working to assist patrons with special needs.

“When a resident registers for a program at the park district, they can indicate if they need assistance,” Carol Heafey, park district recreation program manager, said. “Depending on the situation, the NSSRA can instruct us how to work with this individual or send a trained companion to assist the person in the class.”

The NSSRA also offers camps and swim lessons in Glenview, offering transportation from summer school to these programs plus much more.

Special Gifts Theater in Northbrook opens new doors to possibilities by using the stage to teach social skills, emotional literacy and improve self-confidence.

“Our goal is to teach kids on the stage, allowing them to translate these skills to everyday life,” Jen Von Tobel said. “We often work unscripted, letting kids change a story, working on improvisational skills and allowing them to create their own stories.”

During the summer they also offer “Creativity in Motion” a dance class focusing on story concepts, emotional literacy and choreography taught by a trained dance therapist.

Have Dreams, located in Evanston, helps autistic voices emerge by offering skill-based programs, such as swimming, cooking, art and music while providing a social atmosphere for teens and family members. Their professionals are trained and experienced in evidence-based autism specific assessment and intervention methods, providing an individualized approach.

“We are also a resource agency to assist parents and families, helping them navigate programs that are best suited for their child,” Program Director Dana Fenceroy said.

SociAbility is led by Northbrook-based therapist Genevieve Thornton. She provides individual and group therapy, following a multi-modal approach while relying on active listening and open-ended questions.

“One of our most successful programs involves video-modeling where we videotape kids to see how they interact in a group,” Thornton said. “It is really great for the kids to watch themselves and see how their behaviors impact others. We also teach kids about non-verbal communication and how to be truly present in a situation.”

As the presentations came to a close, eager parents asked the experts questions and shared ideas with one another.

“It is just non-stop learning,” Wilmette parent Jennifer Braun said. “Each year, as our children get older, we need to figure out how to navigate the different stages. Being here with other families provides validation and support. Learning about new resources gives us hope that there is an approach that could really make a difference for our children.”

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