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We all know that children should play. 'Play' helps children to develop in language, communication, imagination and every area one can possibly think of. However, 'Play' does not come naturally for children with Autism. Before asking the child to 'go play with your friend', we must try to understand why 'play' does not come naturally for our ASD children.

Based on much research and our observations, we know that our ASD children have problems imitating and receiving / retaining verbal information – hence the communication difficulties. When the child does not have a basic understanding of his/her environment, verbal communication is nothing more than a jumble mess of meaningless sounds. One might argue that teaching the child to imitate other children to play works well. But if the child does not understand what s/he is imitating the play will not make sense. The child will lose interest before long.

Having tried many methods of teaching, we have found that teaching children to label common everyday items is very helpful. Numbers, letters even words are some of these common items. They are practically everywhere. By teaching our children to recognize them, we facilitate a sense of achievement. When children feel confident about themselves, they often want to share their knowledge.

Without even realizing it, our children have embarked on an academic journey. To many of them this is fun, this is success and this is the game they can play. Is this academic ? Definitely yes. Is this play ? Definitely yes ! Through this 'game' our children can build a bridge to reach out to other children and let the other children reach them. From this academic game, our children have finally found something in common with the others. This can be the beautiful beginning of a lifelong friendship, you never know !

Our school age children will spend the majority of their days in schools.

Many of our children do not function well in groups. They may have a variety of problems, mostly sensory based. Therefore, transitioning from one environment to the next, especially from a quiet one to a noisy one, can be a challenge. Starting Centre-based training as part of their early intervention can reduce or even eliminate the transition issue. When a child can fluidly transition from one environment to the next, a great many number of behavioural issues will not develop. As a result the child will be more successful in school and in the community.

Our Centre, located in Richmond Hill, has been designed and built with the special sensory needs of our students in mind. The calm ambience of our all-LED-lit environment alleviates some of the sensory burden produced by florescent and other types of lighting. In order to reduce stress, each student has her or his own room for individual one-on-one sessions, enabling them to pay maximum attention to the tasks at hand and learn more successfully. Also located within our facilities is an indoor playground, where peers interactions are facilitated and practised under the guidance of our instructors. To prepare students for school, we are equipped with small classrooms and a library which simulate the school environment. Children can learn and practise many classroom routines and school activities. This helps to reduce anxiety throughout the transition, preparing them for an easier integration and a more successful school experience.

In order to better facilitate extra curriculum activities. We have constructed a Ballet studio. It is an International Examination grade studio. Some of our students have started to receive formal dance training from our certified ballet teacher. When not used as a ballet studio, we also conduct our movements, singing and instrumental music classes in this very versatile space.

Our Art room is another group activity space where students learn to do individual and co-operative art projects. Again, the Art room is also multi-media room where students learn arts and science materials interactively.

Centre-Based training provides a structured ‘public' environment through which social learning takes place. As a result of this social learning, children may:

  • Be more capable and therefore more willing to join group activities;
  • Be more desensitized to sounds and movements, therefore reduce or eliminate the need for covering their ears and hiding in the corner to avoid sounds and movements;
  • Be more capable to function in school (for example, greeting others and/or answering simple questions).
        

When a child with Autism is placed in a daycare without support and appropriate help, parents often see these concerns:

  • The child hides in a corner and will not join the group.
  • The child is not interested in, or is upset by the environment.
  • The child starts to have behavioural problems and even tantrums.
  • The child plays with toys – alone.

Why does that happen? Why is the child not enjoying such a happy place where they should have so many friends?

For the child to enjoy his/her environment, the child must:

  1. Have a basic understanding of the environment
  2. Have the ability and desire to engage
  3. Have the ability to satisfy the demands of the environment

In order to achieve the second and third items above, they must first achieve the first – having a basic understanding of the environment. For example, why is mom calling with a book in her hand ? One of the most effective ways to facilitate this understanding is through the use of ABA/IBI therapies to teach basic knowledge so that the child can understand expectations. Before the child can be proficient in public, she or he must be taught necessary general environmental factors and social behaviours in a controlled environment that safely simulates a public place.

The first and the most important ‘public place' to a child is the school. A child will perform better in the school environment as she or he becomes more confident. This sort of confidence is fostered by a basic understanding of the environment, and of the teacher and generally results in a desire to communicate. Being able to learn in a natural social environment is one of the major developmental milestones for a child with Autism.

The OpenMind Alliance teaching style has been designed to emulate an environment where children can learn in a non-judgemental way and to gain better understanding of group dynamics through positive experience.

Be more capable to function in school (for example, greeting others and/or answering simple questions);