Byline: Jean Murphy
Northwest Suburban High School District 214's Community Education program tried something new last fall for families with autistic children. It was such a success that they are offering it again this spring, beginning tonight.
It is a fitness program for parents and their pre-high school children with autism. The program was designed to develop social skills and fitness by "promoting strength, flexibility, endurance and sensory integration," according to District 214.
The students learn to use fitness equipment like the treadmill, elliptical machine and light weights. They also participate in discussions about alternative ways of exercising and healthy diets.
In addition, the students work in pairs, as well as small and large groups to practice social skills like listening, initiating conversations, greeting others and making good decisions. Parents are asked to reinforce the learned skills at home.
"Parents of these kids are trying to effectively advocate for positive social skill supports that address a core deficit inherent in this disorder," explained Joanne Prifti-Nicholas, the parent of a child with autism. "As a result, the district has developed this course. It was fabulous and they are willing to open more sections if the need arises.
"The class blends social skill development with fitness activities," she added. "The teacher is an autism expert - wonderfully enthusiastic, and committed."
Prifti-Nicholas said, however, that she hopes this is just the first step and that eventually the district integrates the teaching of social skills into the general education curriculum, particularly into electives that already have socialization built into them. …