Autism is a neurological disorder affecting all five senses as well as the ability to communicate. But across the spectrum, what isolates children with autism from the rest of society is their inability to interact socially with peers
Inappropriate socialization, like many other symptoms of autism, does not improve with time or maturity. To the contrary, increased age usually highlights the awkward, atypical behavior seen in children with autism. While inappropriate behavior in two - to four-year-olds can sometimes be attributed to that stage of development, when a child of seven, eight or nine displays constant aggression towards other children, or complete lack of interest in their peer group, the dysfunction becomes obvious.
In order to teach social skills, Reach for the Stars has instituted a series of innovative programs that help develop appropriate social interaction with peers:
Extended Day Program
As of November 2014, young students from 2 community elementary schools will be coming to Reach for the Stars 1-2 days each week. After attending an interactive workshop that teaches about autism and its effects on children, these students will be paired with the RFTS students one-on-one to work together on projects and play activities. The goal is to enhance the social give-and-take that typical children engage in, and get our children to interact with other same-age children in a natural environment. Both sets of students gain in social skills, and appreciation for and understanding of differences in peers. Such an "Integrated Program" is currently being practiced by only a handful of schools in the country, and holds great promise.
Holiday events outside school premises
Several schools in the area have created holiday events and carnivals for Reach for the Stars students' participation. On a regular basis, various local schools organize skits, concerts, games and reading times with RFTS students. Our students have been able to make broad gains in social development through all these inclusion programs.
RFTS students are brought on weekly trips into the surrounding community, where they are exposed to a multitude of appropriate social interaction opportunities. They are taught many of the basic skills needed to encourage independence and appropriate behavior in society, such as shopping in area stores, ordering food in restaurants and using public transportation.
After - School Program
This year an inclusive after-school recreational program has been added to our school day. The program runs four afternoons per week. Experts in physical training and behavioral development pair the students together and work with them in developing skills in sports, exercise, cooking and recreational activities. This program represents an opportunity for children on the autistic spectrum to develop social skills in a fun, recreational setting under expert guidance and monitoring.
School Inclusion Program
Besides these socialization and inclusion opportunities within our school, RFTS offers a School Inclusion Program within community schools for students who may appropriately benefit from such a program.