The walls came down between two former therapy rooms at Lansdowne Children’s
Centre in 2021 as Autism Services developed a new multi-discipline team to realize
a vision introduced by the Ontario Autism Program (OAP).
The Entry to School program was introduced as a bridge to kindergarten for children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Families registered with OAP are selected and invited by the government agency to participate in the program, hosted by Autism Services at Lansdowne Children's Centre in Brantford.
Chantel Taylor-LaBute is a Behaviour Therapist and one of the team members responsible for the start-up of the new classroom-styled experience, and the creation of the Stepping Stone Classroom where the program is run.
“We’re introducing children to a lot of new firsts, and that can be very over-whelming. We spend six-months at Lansdowne working on experiences, like: entering and exiting different spaces; following a new routine; playing with toys or games in shared spaces; playing with others; and sharing.”
To empathize with a child’s experience you need only to call back memories of your first day entering a new classroom, or a new job. Remember the intense feelings of anxiety, even fear, and now imagine cranking those feelings up to 11. That’s how many children with sensory and regulation challenges live their lives, and that’s why having an opportunity to climatize, even desensitize to triggers in a busy and loud classroom is so important.
“The timing is even more impactful right now because the children we’re seeing, under age 5, have lived a lot of their life behind a mask. COVID restrictions of the past couple years have erased opportunities for families to introduce their children to social settings like daycares, church, community events and even public parks. So much was closed for so long that kids have really only known the four walls of their home and their family members. Being in a new environment, surrounded by new people, it’s a lot.”
Participants begin on their own, meeting the classroom as a lone individual free to explore
as they interact with adults. When they return for group play, they are one of four in the
classroom, with groups alternating days. As the program progresses the groups come together to form a group of eight. The classes are supported by multiple team
members, specialists in early childhood education, behaviour, communication, motor
skills, and speech and language.
The head count in the room is a fraction of a full kindergarten class, that can reach up to 30 in Ontario, but the graduated experience helps prepare the kids for September, and they won’t be going alone.
“We work with our clients at Lansdowne starting in the spring and right through the summer. Then in September our Lansdowne team is available to support the school team, working with their teachers and assistants to check in on progress and provide support into the new year. We’re the consistency for the child to help the bridge reach well into the school year, where hopefully the child has become familiar and comfortable with the setting and their routine.”
This story was originally shared in the 2021-2022 Lansdowne Children's Centre Annual Report. Click here to visit the board page and access the full booklet online.