Working in partnership with the Pinecrest Queensway Community Health Centre, United Way Ottawa ensures young children are ready to start school with the School’s Cool program. School’s Cool is run by childcare centres across Ottawa — including Mothercraft Ottawa — that have adapted the program for children like Noah, who are on the autism spectrum.
By Laura Kefalas
My son Noah is six years old. He is in grade one in an autism classroom in the public school board. Noah loves to build with Lego (or anything really) and to run, tumble and play with his brothers. He is very creative and he uses his creativity to get into, and out of, quite a bit of mischief.
I had many concerns about Noah starting school. Noah was non-verbal, he seemed to have no sense of danger, he was a runner, and he wasn’t potty trained. He would climb just about anything, and he had a very, very short attention span.
I was worried that he would run and find himself in a dangerous situation. I was worried that he would become frustrated with his lack of verbal communication and become overwhelmed and melt down. I was worried the staff wouldn’t see the amazing, caring, affectionate and smart boy that I knew and loved, or that he wouldn’t be able to follow the school’s new routines. Noah has his own physical way to communicate and I was worried the staff just wouldn’t understand him.
We enrolled in School’s Cool because we knew that Noah had a really hard time with transitions. He liked his routine, and the thought of changing that made me very nervous. I was afraid that a full day of school would be too much for him. He had a lot of experience with special needs play groups, but they were never longer than two hours at a time. I wanted him to go to School’s Cool to expose him to a schedule as close to the one he’d experience in a real school environment.
School’s Cool worked with Noah in a small group setting on things like sitting for circle time, sitting with the other children for snack time, independence, listening and following directions. It really set the pace and gave him a solid head start on school.
As a result, Noah had an incredibly smooth transition to school. He was able to follow directions, tidy up after himself and take part in learning activities. I am very confident that he gained these skills during his time at School’s Cool. Now, in his grade one class, he’s learning math and sight-words, which is right on par with where he should be in the curriculum.
One in four kids in Ottawa starting school for the first time are vulnerable in one or more areas of their development. Noah’s success is just one example of how United Way Ottawa is working to ensure children have the skills they need to succeed in school early on, so they don’t fall behind later.