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30 Jan, Monday
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Montreal Families

Centre uses creative therapies to help kids with autism

When a doctor diagnosed their 3 1/2-year-old son with autism, Montreal parents Richard and Monica Preuss were not surprised. They realized early on that Noah wasn’t behaving like other children. While Noah’s language skills were well-developed, he had trouble staying organized and focused enough to complete simple tasks.

While the diagnosis confirmed their suspicions, it also left them wondering what to do next. “The earlier you can get kids into therapy the better they develop, respond and progress,” Richard says. “The biggest question after the diagnosis is where do we go from here? What services are available?”

Sadly, the Preuss family discovered the harsh reality of Quebec’s under-funded health system. Although Noah was diagnosed more than a year and half ago, he is still on the waiting list to receive any type of public therapy.

So his parents have turned to the private system, stitching together various therapies to help their son. And part of this support patchwork is Aspire4Kids, a Montreal-based non-profit centre offering creative therapies such as music, art and drama for kids ages 3-12 on the autism spectrum or with other cognitive and developmental delays.

Aspire4Kids was founded in 2007 by local mother Orit Shtevi when she couldn’t access therapeutic services for her son, who had Asperger’s syndrome. Shtevi organized weekend programs, including yoga and gym, for young children, but then decided to turn it over to Esther Lieberowitz last September. Aspire4Kids now offers programs at Maman, bébé et café in N.D.G. but are in the process of renovating a new centre at 5065 Queen Mary Rd. (next to the Snowdon metro station) where five therapists and one special care counsellor will work. The centre’s official opening is scheduled for mid-June.

Help with communication skills

The Preuss family decided to enrol Noah in one of their programs because he had difficulty with tasks or games that didn’t have specific rules. So if a group of children were making up a game, Noah would have a hard time participating and dealing with the fact that the kids were changing the rules along the way.

Lieberowitz, the artistic director of Aspire4Kids, says the centre’s various art therapies help children develop their social skills and self-esteem as well as their ability to make and keep friends. Since autism is often linked with sensory problems, creative therapies specifically target the senses of touch, smell, sight and hearing to stimulate children and offer non-verbal means of expression.

Lieberowitz also notes that children with autism often have a hard time connecting and communicating with others. Art, she adds, can help them reach out into a larger world and give them a brighter future.

In the past year, Noah has taken several courses at Aspire4Kids, including a gym workshop and an art therapy class with his younger brother Quinn (who doesn’t have autism). Noah’s dad says the class offered the boys a great chance to bond, while he and his wife could have a short break.

Noah’s parents agree that art therapy alone might not provide enough help to children on the autism spectrum, but they feel that it has played an important role in their son’s development.

Aspire4Kids sessions run for 10 weeks, with costs starting at $200. Classes are offered during the day, after school and on weekends. Lieberowitz says there will also be a summer camp offered this year. For more information, call (514) 928-3782 or go to www.aspire4Kids.com

What is autism?

Autism is the most common condition in a group of developmental disorders known as autism spectrum disorders. Children with these disorders may have problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, show narrow or obsessive interests and have difficulties with social interaction, but there is a wide range of impairments and delays associated with these disorders. A child may be diagnosed when a parent or caregiver realizes that the baby is not reaching the same developmental milestones or has started to withdraw from social interactions. However, there is no single symptom or factor that determines a diagnosis, which is why professional assessment is important.

Information about autism can be found at various Internet sites including the Autism Society of Canada at www.autismsocietycanada.ca and Autism Central at www.autismcentral.ca.

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