News & Media

Preschool Promotes Autism Inclusivity

08/09/2017 Town Lively By Dayna M. Reidenouer

Kids Express Preschool, a ministry of Grace Church at Willow Valley, 300 Willow Valley Square, Lancaster, is preparing to better serve children with autism.

"We want to be supportive to families," said Kids Express director Mary Liz Youtz. "We are not becoming an autism school, but our aim is to become inclusive."

In order to effectively and appropriately meet the needs of children with autism, Youtz reached out to Carolyn Bruey, program supervisor of Autism Solutions, a family service provided by IU13. Bruey trained the Kids Express teachers to work with students on the autism spectrum, and she also recommended a collaboration with Behavior Therapy International (BTI), a Camp Hill-based business that provides applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy tailored for children on the autism spectrum in any setting where it is needed: home, school, day care, and community. ABA therapy is evidence-based and is the only one of its kind recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Surgeon General for addressing the needs of people with autism, said BTI owner Paul Eschbach.

Bruey explained that the Pennsylvania Autism Insurance Act of 2009 mandated that insurance companies must cover up to $40,000 annually for treatments related to autism. That funding can be used for ABA therapy provided through BTI. After students enroll at Kids Express and BTI verifies insurance coverage, a board-certified behavioral analyst will observe the students in all settings where "the most salient behaviors occur and with relevant stakeholders," Eschbach said. The analyst will create a treatment plan, which will include parent-training and teacher-training goals. The plan will be implemented by a registered behavior technician (RBT), who will partner with each student for six to 40 hours a week, during preschool and in other settings.

"One-on-one allows Kids Express Preschool to open up its doors to kids they may not have been able to serve," Bruey remarked.

Having each child with autism paired with an RBT will enhance the classroom experience for all Kids Express students, Youtz asserted. The RBTs will help their clients navigate social interactions with their peers, and typical students will become familiar with interacting with individuals with differences. Bruey noted that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that one in 68 children has autism, so it is important that organizations and individuals become competent and comfortable interacting, learning, playing, and working alongside people with autism.

Inclusivity and competence are important goals for Kids Express Preschool, according to Youtz. Since 1993, the preschool has strived to provide a loving Christian setting in which children ages 2 to 5 are encouraged to grow spiritually, academically, emotionally, socially, and physically. The school is accredited by the Association of Christian Schools International and periodically undergoes a rigorous assessment by the organization.

"Children who leave here assimilate (easily) into kindergarten," Youtz said, adding that the Kids Express curriculum meshes with those of Penn Manor and Lampeter-Strasburg school districts. Additionally, Kids Express performs kindergarten testing for students entering Penn Manor schools.

The 2017-18 school year will begin on Tuesday, Sept. 5. The school day will run weekdays from 9 to 11:30 a.m., with an optional lunch bunch from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The BTI assessment process will take several weeks, so parents of preschoolers with autism should not delay in contacting Youtz at 717-464-1439 or kep@gracewv.org if they would like their children to be ready to start school on Sept. 5.

For more information about Kids Express or to enroll typical students, readers may visit http://www.KidsExpressPreschool.org. Scholarships toward the cost of tuition are available.

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