Luzerne IU 18: Multi-sensory Approach Enhances Learning for Children with Autism

If you’re teaching pre-writing strokes to a first grader with autism, you might not get much cooperation if you ask that child to sit at a desk and draw circles with a pencil. But play with the child at a sand table, and sneak in some directions on drawing circles, and the results can be much more effective.

That’s the approach at Luzerne IU 18’s Lyndwood Learning Center, where academic goals blend with multi-sensory intervention as part of a new therapeutic autism program.

“The multi-sensory approach will motivate students to comply a little more, motivate them a little more, and in turn we get better results,” says Occupational Therapist Catherine Ramiza.

LIU 18 developed the therapeutic autism program because districts needed stronger options, beyond school-based services, for children who have intense behavioral needs and sensory modulation issues, says Director of Special Education Libby Krokos.

The program, launched in Fall 2014, prepares students in kindergarten through second grade to transition to their neighborhood schools. A key element is the multi-sensory room. There, students choose where they’ll spend their time, at stations devoted to sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and movement. Whether students ride a scooter, feel fuzzy fabrics on the tactile wall, or smell aromatherapy scents, Ramiza directs the session to address the child’s individual goals.

“If a student doesn’t do well with bright lights, I may eliminate visual distraction,” says Ramiza. “It’s a very safe environment, and they’re highly motivated to be there.”

Early, intensive therapy prepares children with autism for success in school, says Krokos.

“We want to integrate them back into their neighborhood school and try to eliminate the need for a more restrictive environment throughout their school career,” she says. “Identification of students strengths and needs at an early age allows us to facilitate intervention and will only benefit them in the future.”

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