Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Students with Autism Find Friendship and Success in the Classroom

Two students – Dylan, 19, of Joliet, and Ronnie, 19, of Morris – are your typical teenagers – they attend school, work, play video games, have sleepovers, eat pizza and talk about being roommates.

Dylan said, “Ronnie is my best friend.  I met him at Easter Seals in 2009.  We do everything together.  Easter Seals is for special people like me.  The staff teaches me how to learn and how to help people.” Dylan and Ronnie met at Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago’s (ESMC) Autism Therapeutic School in Tinley Park.  Dylan has been an Easter Seals student for 10 years and Ronnie for seven years. 

Just like the 275 students that attend the Autism Therapeutic Schools locations in Tinley Park, Chicago and Rockford, Dylan and Ronnie’s local school districts contract with Easter Seals.  Nearly 100 school districts in Chicagoland, Rockford and extending into Wisconsin, partner with Easter Seals to provide individualized educational programs for students with autism and related intellectual disabilities.

Autism affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys.  It is a life-long disorder with no known cause or cure, nor a known singular effective treatment.  Autism is treatable.  People with autism, at any age, can make significant progress through therapy and treatments, and can lead meaningful and productive lives.  Challenges in the areas of communication, socialization and restricted/repetitive behaviors are typical of individuals with autism.

“Dylan and Ronnie are best friends.  It’s very rare for people with autism to have a relationship like that,” said Pamela Lord, Dylan’s mother.  “Over the past two years, as they matured, they developed their friendship.”  

 Dylan and Ronnie stretched their social skills in a big way when they traveled to Hollywood to represent Easter Seals at the 2013 Red Carpet Celebrity Style Lounge in honor of the 85th Academy Award nominees and presenters.  This star-studded event, presented by Secret Room Events, attracted many film and television stars.  Dylan and Ronnie met Oscar nominee Jacki Weaver, pop-sensation Paula Abdul, Glee’s Lauren Potter and many other celebrities.  The two students shared stories with celebs about how Easter Seals has changed their lives. 

“Easter Seals provides an alternative school placement and helps each student grow towards independence.  We offer year-round instruction.  Our programming is developed to emphasize a wide-range of curriculum and activities that are based on the specific needs of each student,” said school administrator Maryellen Bucci. 

Easter Seals has specialized staff that utilize a total communication approach (i.e. augmentative communication devices, sign language, visual cues, gestures, etc.), to maximize the learning opportunities for all students. Students participate in a wide range of activities from functional academics and life skills to vocational training and supported or independent employment. Classroom placement is determined by the age and instructional needs of students. 

Easter Seals works to empower each student to achieve peak academic performance, increase social and vocational skills, develop an effective means of communication and foster the acquisition of functional life skills for independence in the community.  Therapies available include speech/language, occupational, social work and nursing.  Other services include behavior consultation, vocational and community training, art therapy and music therapy.

Dylan’s favorite subject in school is reading, while Ronnie’s is science.  Both students have had the opportunity for community-based internship and paid employment opportunities.  Recently, both students successfully completed the Retail Employees with Disabilities initiative (REDI) program at Walgreens.  Additionally, Dylan and Ronnie work at HarrysButtons at Easter Seals, a micro-enterprise business that does both long-term and short-term contract work for local businesses and organizations. 

About Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago
Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago maximizes independence and creates opportunities for nearly 30,000 people with disabilities and other special needs to live, learn, work and play in their communities by providing a lifespan of premier services.  The organization offers a wide range of programs; some of which include: specialized therapeutic schools for children with autism, emotional behavior disorder, and/or severe learning disabilities; early intervention; inclusive child care; specialty clinics; adult job training and job placement programs for individuals with autism; and military/veterans programs. 

·       For more information about:
o    Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, visit
o   Or call 708-802-9050. 

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