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New School Helps Autistic Children

Wednesday, May 2, 2001 at 3:44 PM

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Last year the Ohio Board of Education diagnosed over 2,100 children with autism. Recently a new school specifically for Autistic Children opened in Cleveland, offering another approach to teaching these special needs kids. For the parents who started this school with the Cleveland Clinic the last few months have been able to watch and experience with their children the benefits and limitations of this school. 90.3's Tarice Sims reports.

Tarice Sims- Kent Moravec used to attend public school. He was in an M.H. class, or multi-handicap, in Aurora, but his parents thought he needed more.  The blonde-hair, wide-eyed 9-year-old was first diagnosed as autistic when he was about 2 years old . Soon after, his mother Kim Moravec says he lost his ability to talk.

Kim Moravec- For seven years we’ve had no verbal communication. He’s saying words now since he’s been in the school. It’s like any child, their first words, and to get it back is just something that I didn’t think would happen again.

TS- Last October, Kent was one of seven autistic students who began a new educational journey at the Cleveland Clinic Center For Autism. Parents of moderate to severely autistic children from Northeast Ohio got together to establish the charter school in partnership with The Cleveland Clinic Center. Kim Moravec is active in the schools parent advisory group. She says because of the schools partnership with parents each day her son is sent home with a chart shows how he’s doing. Moravec says in the 6 months the schools been open she’s seen remarkable changes in her son.

KM- I think I looked at Kent prior to this school as he could be so much but that was it. I didn’t look at him in the mind set of my child who is almost 10 could be a productive person in the society. Now I look at it as, hey, he can learn, he might be 9-years-old but he is capable of learning and now I’m looking through my eyes differently at him cause now I’m seeing (pause crying)...he’s just not a child with special needs, he’s a special child who’s going to learn differently, (and) therefore be able to be productive be able to be on his own one day.

TS- The school uses ABA, or Applied Behavior Analysis, to teach their students—many of whom have limited language skills and have limited social skills. Leslie Sinclair is Program Director for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism. She walks in and out of the densely populated classrooms of the school checking on the progress of her students who are learning tasks like how to count money. She’s worked with autistic children for about 20 years. Sinclair emphasizes the use of ABA to reach these kids. She says this approach reinforces positive behavior kids are rewarded when the are able to sit still and concentrate or establish and maintain eye contact. Sinclair says because of limited facilities the school only has about 10 students and is close their capacity of 15. The benefit is, this makes the teacher student ratio very low, allowing the teachers to concentrate on each child individual needs

Leslie Sinclair- She works usually one to one, 2 to 1, and in small group settings out in the classroom and she teaches them functional language skills, augmentative communication, alternative communication um teaching the children to reciprocate with each other and socialize with each other using language.

TS- Such individualized instruction is expensive - $56,000 per student per year. Most of the money comes local school districts and special education funds mandated by Title VI B under the federal assistance program of the Ohio Department of Education. Yesterday the school officially became a non public charter school which grants them access to more dollars. David Varda is Associate Superintendent with the Department.

David Varda- And that money is filtered through the local schools, let’s take Cleveland for an example. When they get their allocation for their federal Title VI B money, they will also get an allocation for each one of the non-public schools within there and then the non public schools have a right to use that money on their special Ed students.

TS- Ohio’s Special Education schools are looking for more help from the federal government to expand programs. Last Month, U.S. Senator Jim Jeffords, a republican from Vermont, announced he is leading efforts to raise funding within the federal budget by $2.5 billion a year for 6 years. Jeffords says the federal government has come up short of the goal to fund 40% of special education costs. In the meantime since the school can only accommodate ten children, the Cleveland Clinic Center for Autism will continue to provide additional services for autistic children who cannot attend the school in the form of consultations, autism diagnosis and extensive outreach programs. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN.

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