There are certain questions that parents ask me all of the time, and today I am giving Adrienne Robertiello and Dr. Roseann Pagano Pizzi a turn to share their professional and maternal solutions. They work together at Children’s Specialized Hospital in Mountainside New Jersey-Adrienne as an Autism Educator and Roseann as Psychology Supervisor. Each has has child on the autism spectrum which as YOU know, gives them the kind of “in-the-trenches” credibility that we look for.
Matthew was pre-school age right around the time he was being evaluated for a “developmental delay” (so of course we thought that mean he could catch up!) A specialist recommended that we enroll him in a “remedial preschool” but we weren’t so sure. We thought that if he went to a school with the “regular” kids he’d model what they were doing developmentally and socially and that we’d all live happily ever after.
Adrienne weighs in:
Should I send my child to specialized preschool, or to one with typically developing kids?
It’s very hard for working parents to make this decision. Many specialized preschools only operate for half a day, or fewer hours than traditional preschool/day care settings. Enrollment in a specialized preschool can cause a logistical nightmare for parents who work full time, especially those who don’t work in the same town in which they live. However, whenever possible, it’s a good idea to try the specialized preschool. Research shows that the earlier the intervention, the greater likelihood of success. It’s easier to progress out of a specialized setting than to transition into one after being in a regular environment for awhile. Also, special education programs provided through the district are free and offer therapies and specialized academic and behavioral training by certified professionals. Most regular preschool settings don’t have staff that have a comparable level of training.
When specialized preschool only is not a viable option, an inclusion program (combination of typically-developing kids and children with special needs), or a mix of a part-time special education program and part-time regular program may be a possibility. It’s important that the programs are a good match for your child, and that the peers in each program have similar strengths and needs.
Right about now, most parents of special needs children are frantically filling out camp forms, waiting in lines, and agonizing over ways to build structure into the 60 long days of summer.
Roseann to the rescue:
I dread summer. Help me? Please?
Some children who have autism qualify for an extended school year program (ESY). This lasts most of the summer, continuing programming to prevent regression. For those who do not qualify and for those summer “gap” weeks without any school, what does a family do with a child with autism? The child is used to structured and purposeful activities. Sometimes the schools offer recreation programs to fill those gaps. There are camps that occur during those time periods, but families should register very early because these dates fill up fast. Public and private recreation programs and public libraries offer plenty of things for kids during the summer. Families need to know that these are open for kids on the spectrum as well. Child care providers are also mandated by law to include children of all abilities. The inclusion part is another issue, as these providers are till learning what to do and how to make it all work together. I encourage education and awareness as much as possible – both of the organizations and the general public. I also encourage shared resources as so many organizations are struggling with financial challenges. Shared knowledge and shared resources can make for more inclusive communities with supports for families during these long days of summer. For those who’s child qualifies for the ESY program, it’s a bit easier. But sometimes hours are shorter. It is helpful for families to look for a qualified child care providers, therapist, tutor, or someone who can spend some time with the child during the unstructured hours. There are often college students in the special education field who are home for the summer who have spare time who are willing to work in this manner for income and experience. For all families, there’s always the dreaded one or two weeks in August after ESY ends. Many families reserve these weeks for family vacations as finding services during this time period is often difficult.
Adrienne P. Robertiello, Autism Educator at Children’s Specialized Hospital also facilitates the participation of individuals with autism and their families within community settings. Her involvement has included numerous community service projects including educating and communicating resources in such areas as community awareness and inclusion, safety and emergency preparedness, and inclusive ministries. She co-developed Libraries and Autism – We’re Connected, providing information, tools, resources, and practical ways of inclusive/supportive library services. Through the generous funding of Kohl’s Department Stores, Adrienne has developed and implemented Make Friends with Autism, a nationwide community outreach initiative.
CLICK HERE to see Adrienne’s latest project, Friends Like You. Friends Like Me for which she is particularly proud.
Dr. Roseann Pagano Pizzi is the psychology supervisor at Children’s Specialized Hospital. She specializes in assessment of children with autism spectrum disorders and oversees a department of psychologists and psychotherapists who treat children with a variety of mental health needs. She is adjunct professor at Seton Hall University, where she teaches graduate courses in clinical and counseling psychology.
They are lucky to be working at Children’s Specialized Hospital as it has been ranked in the Top 25 Best Places to Work in New Jersey by NJ BIZ and ranked in the Top 100 Best Healthcare Employers by Modern Healthcare, one of only four children’s hospitals in the nation to achieve
To learn more about the Autism program at Children’s Specialized Hospital, CLICK HERE.
Read the first three chapters of A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM HERE.