The Livonia preschool program for students with autism spectrum disorders began in January 1997 in response to parent requests for improved programming for preschoolers with autism. Since the inception of the program, the staff has continually integrated new therapy and treatment approaches including various forms of applied behavior analysis, social relational models, sensory integration, picture exchange, sign language and numerous others.
Because many behavior issues are sensory related, the program has a very strong sensory component. An occupational therapist certified in sensory integration provides on-going support to evaluate sensory needs and provide consultation for sensory diets to staff and parents. Each child’s sensory diet is addressed daily and in all environments by trained paraprofessional and professional staff.
The classrooms use positive behavioral supports to manage behavior issues. Because the TEACCH method is extremely effective for managing behavior by using predictable routines and visual systems to alleviate anxiety, the staff relies on this heavily in the classrooms. Visual schedules are used both for the classroom and for individuals as needed. Work areas are clearly defined. Work is organized with a clear beginning and ending.
Communication is addressed in many ways in all environments. In addition to push-in type speech therapy from the speech pathologist, students receive an hour per day of individual instruction from a trained, supervised para professional. Staff has been in-serviced in the use of PECS, sign, and various communication devices. The philosophy of this program is to assume that any student can learn to speak. Therefore, while students are given a means of communication almost immediately upon entering the program, the ultimate goal of the intense individual therapy is speech for each child.