At times, kids with autism and developmental delays may struggle with social skills — and they aren’t the only ones. Children of all ages who have spent 18 months in pandemic isolation may have missed valuable social-rich playgroups, birthday parties and other kid-centered events, or they may have trouble reintegrating comfortably into social groups. That’s why Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy is creating social groups to provide rich experiences for kids of all abilities.
At Roots’ Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills locations, children on the autism spectrum and those who may need help building social skills are gathering to enjoy music therapy, yoga, crafts and other activities designed to help them develop social skills they can use for a lifetime.
“A lot of kids struggle with social skills, so we want to help them engage in a structured and supportive inclusive environment,” says Jen Link, Board Certified Behavior Analyst and Co-founder of Roots Autism Solutions. “Sometimes kids who have ADHD, for instance, find challenges in a classroom environment because their impulsivity gets in the way of making friends.”
Through a variety of games and activities, kids will build language skills, learn how to take turns, practice making requests and improve friendship skills and other social competencies. By welcoming community partners, Roots is building a resource for child-appropriate service providers and community members.
“These are community benefits we want to open up to people, in part to let people know who we are, but we also value partnerships in our communities and want to help them grow too,” says Jillian Burgard, President, CEO and Co-founder of Roots.
Inclusive for children who can benefit
Parents may send their children to typical parks and recreation programs, dance classes and other enrichment programs where they may fit in and make friends. Other children may struggle more socially or organizationally, making enrichment classes less fun and more anxiety-inducing for both child and parent.
“If a child has unique learning needs, parents may worry if they will be OK in typical programs without support,” Burgard says. “If your child plays successfully, you know you can leave dance class and come back in an hour. Parents of kids who don’t have success engaging with peers or following rules within a group as well don’t have that comfort.”
Social groups at Roots are facilitated by individuals who are highly trained in helping children communicate, verbalize and develop social skills in ways that are comfortable for them. While a typical storytime leader or summer camp counselor may not know how to help kids learn effective social techniques, the staff at Roots spend their days helping children do just that.
While the social groups aren’t technically Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy, they do have a foundation of ABA techniques that can work for anyone, Link says. “If there is a child who struggles, they can benefit from coming to a social group where we are working on those skills,” she says. At Roots, they will learn alongside kids who benefit from ABA therapy and are building important skills for independence.
Skills for a lifetime
What children will take away from these experiences can lay the foundation for social interactions, potentially for the remainder of their lives.
“They’ll gain a wide range of abilities in our social groups and learn how to support their peers and be excited to help a child celebrate their birthday, really learning how to share not just toys, but sharing moments, too,” Burgard says. Through music therapy, they
’ll may learn to tolerate the sound of instruments and clapping — and learn when it’s appropriate to clap and sing. Through yoga, they will learn to calm and relax their senses to better cope with the demands of the day.
Whether they are playing basketball and soccer or running through the gym or playing an age-appropriate board game, children will learn social skills that can be generalized to their everyday lives. They’ll get the opportunity to learn how to engage with others through real-life interactions.
“With our general social groups, children will learn how to sit at a table with peers and work together during snack time and practice through fun games and activities, even learning how to prepare for the unexpected,” Link says. “The big difference is that they will be working on these skills with peers and working in a group that prepares them for school and birthday parties and other social experiences.”
Learn more about Roots Autism Solutions and Therapeutic Academy’s two locations in Buffalo Grove and Lake in the Hills at rootsautimsolutions.com.