Hammonton’s disabled preschool for children ages 3 and 4 includes a special classroom geared to the needs of autistic students, said Special Education Supervisor John Lavell.
Currently, there are six children in the class.
“You could say, in that regard, we’re somewhat unique,” Lavell said. “I don’t know a lot of districts that have a (preschool) room geared to kids on the autism spectrum.” Districts often handle all types of disabilities in one classroom, he said.
School districts are required to provide services free to children with disabilities beginning at age 3. They get special state and federal aid to help pay for it. The state Department of Education also requires that disabled children be included in regular programs as much as possible.
Two years ago, Hammonton added a dedicated classroom for kindergarten and first-grade students classified as being on the autism spectrum, Lavell said. Eric Rowe has been in that classroom with three other children.
“We bring in therapists to support the teacher for behavioral interventions in working with children with autism,” he said. “Students have made tremendous progress, and it’s a credit to parental support and the teacher working together to move students along.”
He said the children in the autism classroom go into first-grade classsrooms for some lessons.
“We’re giving them opportunities to succeed in a self-contained room but also moving them to the general population,” Lavell said.
By second grade, students often can enter a regular classroom, with the help of an instructional aide, Lavell said. The goal is to eventually be mainstreamed, independent learners.
This is the first in a series in which readers share why their local school is special. Parent Kimberly Rowe wrote about her son Eric’s experiences at the Hammonton Early Childhood Education Center:
“My son has attended the Early Childhood Education Center (ECEC) in Hammonton since the day after his third birthday. He was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum and has been receiving the most loving and nurturing education for almost five years now.
“Because of the amazing education he has received at the ECEC, my son will leave the ECEC and go to the Warren E. Sooy Elementary School. The classroom teachers, therapists, aides and other support staff that have molded my son have done a stellar job preparing him for this transition.
“Eric started as a nonverbal child at 3 (who) did not respond to his name, and will start next year as a second-grade student with a love for learning that I can attribute to every adult at the ECEC that has come into to contact with him over the years.”
Compiled by Diane D’Amico
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