Supporting the Child with Autism in a Holistic Environment

Every child has physical, social-emotional and academic needs. Learn what happens for the child with autism when these needs are met in an enriched therapeutic environment.

The phrase “meeting the needs of the whole child” is familiar to many parents of young children. Typically, this refers to a school or provider’s efforts to help each child develop from a social-emotional, academic and physical perspective.

But how does a “whole child” approach work for the child with autism, whose days might be filled with a variety therapies?

“For our learners, an enriched therapeutic environment should be intentionally about building variety into the day,” says Jillian Burgard, President and CEO of Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy, an ABA therapy provider with locations in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills. “Circle time, centers, lunch — all the important parts of the day for preschool through school aged children, are built into the day for learners at Roots.”

More often, kids with autism spend time with an ABA provider learning communication skills, practicing prosocial behaviors and other techniques important for daily living — like toileting and handwashing. Sometimes, this therapy takes place in isolated situations, like cubicles and therapy rooms that look nothing like the school environment they will eventually join.

At Roots, children have the opportunity to learn, grow and develop in a natural environment that is stimulating and fun, where therapies can blend with engaging activities that children enjoy. “Learning new skills, in some cases, can cause the child to lose interest,  and our approach is play-based in a natural environment,” explains Jen Link, Co-Founder of  Roots.

A typical day at Roots

A holistic approach means meeting the needs of the individual child. The goal is to prepare Roots learners to attend school with their peers, when their family feels the time is right. Some children already attend half-day kindergarten or another preschool and come to Roots for the other half of the day. The day for each child looks different while at Roots, and their schedule is based on the needs of that child.

Kids will spend time in the gym on the swing or trampoline, participate in circle time, all the while engaging in ABA therapy, have a snack and take a walk. And there’s plenty of time to support the individual needs of the child during the day.

Here, children can focus on specific skills to help them better function in a school setting as well as in their daily life. “Maybe their teachers at school find they have a hard time transitioning from one activity to another. We can target that because we can take the time to practice moving from activity to activity and help the child build these skills,” Link says. “When needed, one of our Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) can go into the school and show the teacher techniques to further help the child.” At Roots, collaboration with all of the providers that support the child is an essential part of the approach to supporting the whole child.

A suite of therapeutic support

Often, families supporting their child with autism find they must arrange their schedules around ABA therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy and any number of specialized appointments. A holistic therapeutic approach at Roots brings all of these therapies together in one location, making life easier for everyone.

“Having a child with special needs is hard enough for parents. They are often limited in what they can do as parents because they have to take their child to these different therapies, and in the suburbs, it’s not always close by,” Burgard says. “We know there are parents who want to get back to work or just be able to get groceries while their kids are at school, like all other parents.”

Speech-language therapy and occupational therapy are available at Roots, as well as art therapy and music therapy. These are immersive and fun experiences for kids that help them grow in ways that ABA therapy providers don’t address. ABA therapists attend art and music therapies with the kids to be part of the process, supporting the child in their engagement and meeting their therapy goals.

“We eliminate all those additional stops that parents have to make because we add in all these therapies and others that they may not have thought of, like art therapy and music therapy,” Burgard says. “Parents see the joy in their child’s face and recognize that these additional forms of therapy can be beneficial.”

Supporting thriving kids

What is the result of the holistic approach at Roots? Kids who are thriving because their needs are met.

“The variety in their day and the holistic therapeutic approach leads to happier kids at home,” Link says. “Kids go home with the satisfaction of being fulfilled.”

Happy kids make happy families, too, says Burgard. “If we can make the day positive for our learners, make it eventful and full of learning and fun, that takes the weight off the parents.”

Learn more about Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Preschool at rootsautismsolutions.com.

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