A huge step forward is being made for children with autism in Edmonton. There will now be a dedicated school and increased learning opportunities for students on the spectrum.
This includes children like Katie Kjelland’s five-year-old son, Ethan. He has autism and currently receives support at home.
“With children, they’re all unique, even with children with autism. So one child with autism will have different needs from another child with autism,” said Kjelland.
Kjelland plans for her son to go to the neighbourhood Kindergarten later in the year, but now her family has another choice.
“It is reassuring to know that if that environment is not the best fit for him, there will be other options available that we can explore in the future,” Kjelland said.
That new option was announced at an autism conference in Edmonton on Thursday afternoon. A kindergarten-to-Grade 6 school for children with autism will open by the next school year. The Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton will run the independent school.
The organization’s executive director, Terri Duncan, says the school will use a different strategy than traditional elementaries — more of an emotional approach.
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“When we’re dealing with challenging behaviour, we use the newest and best ways to address those challenging behaviours, including offering an environment that is tailored to their needs,” said Duncan.
The start date is not that far away, in just over six months the existing building will be transformed and welcoming students in for a first-of-its-kind school.
“It’s not a lot of time and we have a lot of work ahead, we have a lot of things to do but there’s a lot of really great people working on it,” said Duncan.
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Duncan also added that the school will change the landscape of services in the capital region.
“It’s going to make a difference for these kids. It’s such a profound thing to be in a setting where you belong and where you’re accepted. In Edmonton, there is no facility dedicated to children with autism who are school-aged and it really is a resource that is desperately needed in this region,” said Duncan.
“It is going to be a huge benefit for families, kids and educators.”
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The school is located directly behind the organization’s current building part of this was made possible by the Prestige Auto Group which covered half the cost of the building.
“When they came in the process and talked to us. The reason why they were looking to purchase this school and they needed some support in order for them to be able to make this happen. It was absolutely no way I could say no,” said Jim Jiwani, president of the Prestige Auto Group.
For Kjelland, she’s excited for what the future holds for not only her son but other children as well.
“It’s great that there’s going to be this opportunity for parents to explore and see if this is a good fit for their kids,” said Kjelland.
The Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton says enrollment hasn’t started yet, but hopes to eventually accommodate up to 200 families.
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