Access and Inclusion
The Mayor’s Summit on Autism shone a spotlight on the prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Nearly 1 in 100 young people has such a disorder. This is issue is especially relevant in the after-school sector, which provides opportunities for social integration and teaching of social skills. After-school opportunities also help parents of those with ASD, like all parents; secure a safe and nurturing place for their children during the work day.
Boston Beyond is collaborating with Mayor Thomas M. Menino and the Boston Public Schools to ensure that students with autism spectrum disorders have access to out-of-school time programs. Since the Summit, a planning group, including Mayor Menino, has met with experts and with after-school providers to design the “Boston After-School for All” project. Two needs have emerged as the major obstacles to inclusive after-school: (1) the need for training and technical assistance to providers to assure that they are both competent and comfortable with inclusion and (2) the need for one-to-one support for individual children whose integration may be particularly challenging.
In repose to a meeting hosted by Mayor Menino at the Parkman House, 15 citywide after-school organizations sent program directors and staff to a three-part training, sponsored by the Boston Public Schools. Boston After School & Beyond is providing capacity building funds and technical assistance to the participating programs.
Why the focus on ASD?
Programs that are open to children with ASD are better programs overall. An inclusive attitude begins with genuine curiosity. All children -- whether typical or delayed -- benefit when adults are actively curious about what it is like to be that child. A focus on a child's individual needs and interests is critical -- not just for reaching children with ASD, but for activating learning and skill development in all children.