Although there is so much information available to parents and caregivers of children with autism today, there is only so much help that they themselves can provide.
Enrolling your child into one or more ‘enrichment’ programs designed for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder can significantly improve not only their cognitive skills, but their social skills as well. The only caveat is figuring out which program would work best for your child. Many factors come into play when finding the right programs: the child’s ASD symptoms and the ‘severity’, their physical and mental age, and their level of sociability.
These factors are important to consider because of how tailored some programs are. You will want to find out about the counsellor to child ratio, the activities and tasks completed in the program, the different trips that may be taken at older ages, etc. The person who knows your child best is you, so by doing research into the programs available in your area as well as finding any ‘secret’ programs which may not be as well advertised, you will find there are many options available. A good starting place could simple be a search engine such as Google (try searching “[your area’s name] enrichment programs”). You can also explore your options by talking with family doctors, friends, and other parents with children with ASD will open many doors to programs.
A good example of a ‘hidden’ program in various cities across Canada is a non-profit organization named Making Waves Canada. Volunteer university students teach disabled children (infants to pre-teens) swimming and water safety in a one on one 45 minute lesson once per week over the course of 8 or 9 lessons. These tailored lessons are available at a ‘donation’ rate, making it affordable and accessible to families with children with a disability (regardless of whether it is physical or cognitive).
Once you begin your search, opportunities for your child will start presenting themselves, and they will be able to engage in fun activities while learning and developing at the same time. For more information about enrichment programs, please visit the Autism Canada Foundation’s page on recreation therapy, or the Autism Treatment Centre of America’s page for the Son-Rise Program, a program which has been running since 1974.
By Sydney Chasty, Carleton University