After-school programs for children with autism provide social and behavioral enrichment outside the classroom setting. Autism is a developmental disorder that affects social behavior and communication. Health care workers classify autism under Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), because it affects every person differently—from mild to severe. Some enrichment programs specify a diagnosis within the spectrum or a certain functioning level for acceptance. Research the services available in your area and talk to professionals before choosing a program.
In 2006, the National Foundation for Autism Research (NFAR) awarded Kids Included Together (KIT) funding to develop training for out-of-school providers on how to incorporate autistic children into their programs. KIT works with the Boys and Girls Clubs, the YMCA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, city parks and recreation services, educational services and other nonprofit organizations that offer after-school enrichment programs. KIT's "Teaching and Modeling Respectful Accommodations for Children and Youth with Autism in Out-of-School Programs" is the most requested NFAR training program in the United States and has spread to Canada.
The National Center for Kids Overcoming Crisis developed an initiative called the KidsPeace After School Therapeutic Program to offer children ages 6 to 18 with ASDs a chance to work on social skills with their peers. A treatment team designs an individual program for each child, based on his needs and development. Family members play a crucial role on the treatment team by effectively communicating with staff. This program uses an applied behavioral analysis approach, designed to reinforce positive behaviors and reduce negative behaviors.
The Easter Seals website offers a comprehensive database of autism facts and services for all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Find out what resources your state provides for children with ASD, including educational services and after-school enrichment programs. State profiles are based on research compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
New Horizons in Autism, a New Jersey-based organization, has a specialized after-school program to provide supplemental instruction for kids with ASD. The program focuses on teaching kids about personal needs and community experiences. It's a five-day per week program that relies on family involvement. New Horizons opened in 1995 and continues to expand throughout New Jersey.
Autism is called a spectrum disorder because it affects people in varying degrees. The spectrum includes autistic disorder (classic autism), Asperger syndrome and pervasive development disorder. It means that individuals with ASD have varying levels of functionality, social skills and behavioral control. Mainstream and specialized programs may have minimum or maximum skill sets or functionality to qualify.
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