A school with an empty classroom has been able to rent that space to a community agency, which runs a government-funded program for children with autism.
Cindy Warr, principal of Northumberland Christian School, and Angela Rose, senior therapist for the program, say the arrangement is proving beneficial for both sides.
In Ontario, the publicly-funded Autism Prevention Program offers services to children who have a diagnosis of autism and their families. These services include Intensive Behavioural Intervention (IBI) and a variety of family resource and support services for families with children who are both receiving and waiting to receive IBI.
The Central East Autism Program services York, Simcoe, Durham, Peterborough, Northumberland, Haliburton and Kawartha Lakes.
Tri-County Community Support Services runs the school-based component of the autism program five days a week at Northumberland Christian School. It is operated completely independently of the Christian school.
Rose says the arrangement provides an opportunity for integration into a classroom with typically developing peers. It also allows the autism program to target skills such as group instruction, school routines, social skills and play skills.
She says all of the program’s students came from a home-based program where they received one-to-one instruction.
“Now we have the opportunity to target a lot of skills that we couldn’t otherwise when we were one-to-one at home.”
The arrangement has allowed for one of the students in the IBI program to spend two afternoons a week in the Grade 1 and 2 classroom of Northumberland Christian School. The student, along with his therapist, does activities and art with the other students.
Another advantage to the arrangement is the opportunity it offers to prepare the program’s students for other settings such as school, according to Rose.
Warr says one of the benefits of having the autism program in the school is that it gives students an opportunity to be exposed to other people with other needs and “to practice God’s love with them, sometimes to be patient, sometimes to just see that there are other people in the world besides us.”
Renting the space for the program has also provided a boost for Northumberland Christian School’s budget, according to Warr.
She calls the arrangement a gift from God, noting that last year the school was looking at cutbacks when it heard about the opportunity to offer space to the agency running the IBI program.
“It’s one of the ways God has looked after us,” she says. “(The opportunity) literally dropped in our lap.”
Warr points out that an arrangement like this is a unique way for a school to pay the bills and stay open in a time when declining enrolment has become an issue for independent schools across the province.
She expects the arrangement to continue until the Northumberland school requires the space again.
“It’s been a wonderful experience for all of us, and not just financially,” she says. “It’s just been wonderful to have those children here.”