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updated: 10/4/2012 12:26 PM

5K helps Lisle school help students with autism

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  • Dan Kobs, right, has autism as well as apraxia. Through therapies at Giant Steps, he's made progress and thrilled his older brother Pete by saying his name.

      Dan Kobs, right, has autism as well as apraxia. Through therapies at Giant Steps, he's made progress and thrilled his older brother Pete by saying his name.
    Courtesy of Joan Kobs

  • Dan Kobs

      Dan Kobs

 
 

In a typical classroom, a teacher might tell her students to take out their notebooks and write a journal entry about their thoughts on a book they've just read.

But a student with autism might not process the teacher's oral instructions and likely wouldn't have more than a factual response about the details of the book.

In a typical school, most students would be thrilled to hear the daily routine is being broken up by an assembly and would clap along with a marching band they found playing in the gym.

But for an autistic student, a change in the schedule can be disruptive and unsettling and the band's music reverberating in the gym can overload his senses.

While some students with autism fare well in mainstream settings, others find the environment in their public school overwhelming and unable to fully accommodate their unique learning styles and needs.

Giant Steps in Lisle offers an autism-specific learning environment for children in elementary, middle and high school. Through the Day School that began in 1996, students have individualized education plans that help students build their cognitive learning, communication skills, social/emotional development and motor skills.

Meanwhile, the school's one-on-one therapy programs include speech/communication therapy, neurological music therapy, occupational therapy and more.

In addition, Giant Steps offers training and education to support parents and families touched by autism as well as for educators, police and other emergency responders, and professionals in other areas who may want to know more about how best to help those with autism.

An adult day program offers opportunities to take part in a work environment while learning job skills.

For students like Dan Kobs of Naperville, Giant Steps has made a world of difference. The traditional classroom setting was stressful for Dan, prompting the family to look for alternatives. Two years ago, Dan started at Giant Steps and has made progress that's evident at school and at home.

Today, Dan's mom, Joan, tells us more about how Giant Steps has helped her son and why she's excited to help the school by taking part in Giant Steps' 5K Autism Awareness Run and Walk on Saturday at St. James Farm in Warrenville.

Joan Kobs

When your child is diagnosed with autism, it is life-changing for everyone involved. Suddenly, the life you have imagined for your child and your family as a whole has been completely upended, and as a parent, you wonder, "What now?"

You begin a lifelong struggle of searching for the best opportunities and options for your child.

My name is Joan Kobs and my son Dan, who is now 11, was diagnosed with autism just before his second birthday. Because autism is a broad-spectrum disorder and affects everyone who has it in different ways and to varying degrees, there is not one specific treatment path that works for everyone.

For us, that meant getting Dan involved in numerous therapies such as speech, social skills, occupational and physical therapy.

As he got older, things became harder. Traditional public school was not a great fit for him. Along with his autism, Dan also suffers from apraxia, which makes it difficult -- and in the past, impossible -- for him to speak.

He struggled with sensory and behavioral issues in a typical classroom. He was in a constant state of stress and it impacted our entire family. Simple things like getting Dan into a car to drive car pool for his brother or attending a family birthday party could be major undertakings that often ended up upsetting everyone, most of all Dan.

Things seemed pretty bleak until he began school at Giant Steps a little more than two years ago.

Dan began at Giant Steps in the April of his third-grade year. At our first visit to the school, it was apparent things there were different. Students skated by us in the hallway on their Rollerblades, another was in a therapy swing reading a book, while another group was in music therapy session.

Dan settled into Giant Steps and his teachers, aides and therapists have shown him and our family more dedication than I can even describe. When an issue arises, there is never a "Dan can't," but instead a "Let's help Dan succeed."

His teachers even have offered to work with him at home on some issues because they are so dedicated to his growth. Because he is getting the therapies and individual attention on a daily basis that he needs, he is making great strides at school and at home.

His relaxed and loving nature is shining through. One of the biggest changes is that he is beginning to speak -- you cannot imagine how thrilling it is for his brother to hear Dan say his name. We will forever be grateful to the fine staff at Giant Steps!

It is because of this dedication that my family is thrilled to walk in Giant Steps' second annual Autism Awareness Run/Walk on Oct. 6 at St. James Farm. Our team, "Friends of Danny," once again will walk with and in honor of Dan.

Giant Steps has been life-changing for Dan and my family. I am positive Dan's classmates and their families feel the same way.

If you are interested in finding out more information about this event or how to support this fine school, please visit the Giant Steps webpage at mygiantsteps.org or go to firstgiving.com/giantsteps/gswalk.

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