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Autism in the Classroom

WebMD talks to parents, therapists, and educators for advice on how to help children with autism thrive in the classroom.

Autism in the classroom: Schools for learning differences continued...

For instance, eight years ago, Tamara Spafford along with three families founded the Lionheart School in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Spafford is now the school’s executive director. She says she helped start the school because when she looked at private and public schools something was missing. She couldn’t find anything as good as what she was doing for her daughter at home.

“We needed to get out of the basement,” she says. “And we needed a supportive, loving community. We also needed a school.”

Spafford says she and the other founding families didn’t want to battle school systems. They also “didn’t want to lose time.” There is no known cure for autism. Experts believe, though, that early and steady intervention is key in helping children learn the social skills and strategies they need. When they have those skills and strategies they can communicate. At the same time, behavioral problems can be addressed before they become major impediments.

The Lionheart School’s director of special services is Victoria McBride. She says the school’s approach goes beyond teaching skills. “We teach children to be thinkers and problem solvers. And we teach them how to use those strategies in appropriate ways.”

Elizabeth Litten Dulin is Lionheart’s director of education and admissions. She says, “Oftentimes, older children who come to us have had lots of school failure and disappointment. And that takes a toll.” She adds that you “can have a strong impact if you start early.”

The Lionheart School, like a few others across the U.S., uses a developmental clinical approach in a school setting.

Calls come from all over the country. The school has 32 full-time students.

Jacob’s Ladder is another special school. It’s founder, Amy O’Dell, home schooled her son Jacob for a few years. Then ten years ago she founded Jacob’s Ladder, a “neurodevelopmental learning center” for children with any type of developmental delay.

O’Dell says the staff at Jacob’s Ladder follows a “brain-based” program. The program looks at where children stand in four main areas:

  • Neurodevelopmental aspects
  • Physiological components
  • Social, emotional, behavioral
  • Academic

O’Dell’s philosophy is to create a loving environment with creative, passionate and tireless teachers. The school takes children from kindergarten to 12th grade. O’Dell and her staff, though, also evaluate children and create a home-based learning plan that’s tailor-made for them.

They also offer parent training and intense programs for out-of-town families.

Autism in the classroom: Balancing family needs

Wolfe tells WebMD all the hard work with her son Joshua has been worth it.

She says getting early intervention and training helped her entire family become stronger. In a sense, she says, the focus is no longer all on her son. That takes some of the pressure off him and creates a more balanced family life for everyone.

Now when something like a behavior issue pops up, she asks, “Is it because he is a boy? Is it because he is 7? Is it because he has autism? I don’t know and that’s when it is really hard, trying to decipher when to be the helicopter mom and swoop in and when to just back off because you know 7-year-old boys are going to poke other 7-year-old boys.”


Reviewed on December 02, 2008

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