Kids with autism get extra help with new Entry to School program
Starting school is a big step for any child. Having extra support during the transition can make children with a diagnosis of autism and their parents and caregivers feel more confident about entering the classroom.
The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services recently announced the launch of the Ontario Autism Program (OAP) Entry to School program, a service focused on preparing children with autism to enter school.
“The Autism Program at McMaster Children’s Hospital was successful in our proposal to offer this service,” says Katherine Wood, clinical leader of McMaster Children’s Hospital’s autism program, “and we’re looking forward to helping almost 50 children with the transition this year.”
The Entry to School Program is a six-month group-based skill-building program for children 3 to 5 years old who are entering school for the first time, either in kindergarten or grade one. After the program, children will receive transition supports as they enter school to ensure a successful start to their educational journey. Families and educators will be able to access consultation services from program staff, upon request, during a child’s first six months in school.
“We are working in partnership with Bethesda, Haldimand-Norfolk REACH, Lansdowne Children’s Centre, Niagara Children’s Centre, and Six Nations Health Service to deliver Ontario Autism Program Entry to School Services for the Hamilton, Niagara, Brant, Haldimand-Norfolk, Six Nations of the Grand River and Mississaugas of the Credit areas,” says Wood.
Looking forward to the program
Conrad and Noah will be starting school in September and have both enrolled in the first offering of the Entry to School program.
Conrad’s mom Catherine hopes the program will help him learn routines that are required in a school day such as lining up, dressing himself for outdoor play, waiting his turn and socializing with his peers.
“I would like him to be able to follow simple one-step directions and be able to communicate his needs with others,” says Catherine. “Some activities Conrad would enjoy in school would be singing nursery rhymes, playing active gross motor games, and playing with Play-Doh. I am looking forward to Conrad progressing throughout the program.”
Noah’s mom Glenda also hopes her son will learn the structure of a school routine: sitting down, following activities, washing hands, putting away his lunch box, and putting on his coat and shoes. She hopes he can work on social skills, like being able to ask for help, taking turns, and transitioning from activities he enjoys to those he doesn’t.
“I’m very optimistic about this program because Noah has already developed a lot of skills throughout the years. He’s very good at writing and drawing, but he needs to learn skills for interacting with other kids,” she says. “I think the skills that we’re looking for him to develop in these next few months before school begins can be very supported in this group.”
A multi-disciplinary team approach
The Entry to School program began in March 2022 at McMaster Children’s Hospital’s Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre, where the Autism Program is based. There is also an option for staff to meet with children at their home, or in the licensed childcare centre they attend.
“Family and caregivers can choose which model is best for their child and family,” says Wood.
The multidisciplinary Entry to School team includes early childhood resource specialists, autism therapists, communicative disorders assistants, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, and clinical coordinators who are board certified behaviour analysts. This approach enables the program to be individualized for each child, family, and school.
Families who may be eligible for this service receive an invitation letter from the Ministry to register for the program.
Families interested in the Entry to School program can call 905-521-2100 ext. 70019 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.