EATON — One year ago, on June 30, 2015, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed a budget bill that included funding for the PLAY Project in Preble County. Earlier this month, at a Monday, June 6, Eaton Rotary meeting, information regarding the PLAY project was presented to the group which included those instrumental in making the funding happen.
The PLAY (Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters) program is designed for children with autism and provides training to parents and educators. It is an evidence-based autism early intervention program.
Due to the increase in autism and need for services, the Preble County Board of Developmental Disabilities embraced PLAY in 2010 for home-based early intervention
PCBDD began implementing PLAY through its early intervention program that year, after participating in a demonstration project through the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities (DODD). The seed money, made available by DODD, was aligned so that it encourages partnerships between agencies to share resources; promote families, home-centered intervention and ultimately strives to reduce the lifelong impact of disabilities by responding to families’ needs early on.
As these children entered preschool, the Teaching PLAY model was adopted to support teaching staff.
During the 2014-15 school year, PCBDD participated in a DODD state pilot program, Teaching PLAY, which is the implementation of PLAY in a preschool classroom setting. PCBDD continues to receive positive feedback from professionals and families involved with the program. In fall 2015, Eaton Community Schools, National Trail School District and Preble Shawnee Preschool partnered with PCBDD to move the PLAY Project into the kindergarten classrooms
Partnering with DODD in 2014-15 for a Teaching PLAY Pilot “was really successful. We saw a lot of progress,” Katie Kurtz with WESTCON said.
Kurtz, a PLAY Consultant, led PLAY training session for principals, teachers, aides and tutors.
Teaching staffs were energized and helped provide momentum to follow students into the next school year, according to officials. The 2015-16 academic year was successful, and officials are in the process of planning for the 2016-17 school year.
Preble County is the first in the United States to take the PLAY project to the school systems, according to Preble County DD Executive Director Diane Knupp.
Stephanie Garrett, from the Governor’s Council on DD, Sen. Bill Beagle and Ohio Rep. Jeff Rezabeck were instrumental in helping secure the funding to get this into the local school systems.
“We’re getting what we expected and that’s some real positive results,” Knupp said during the Rotary presentation.
PLAY is offered in three of the county’s school districts.
“That’s not to say the other districts are not interested, but we’ve been following the kiddos who have been coming out of our early intervention program into their school experience,” Knupp said.
The program has already identified and signed up nine kids for next year, which doubles the enrollment, according to Knupp.
In 2000, one of every 166 children were diagnosed with autism. In 2010, the number was one in 68 children.
“Clearly, something is going on. There are more and more kids being diagnosed with autism. So what we know about autism is that the earlier you intervene you can impact that child’s life. You’re changing the brain based on how you are doing you’re intervention,” Knupp said.
“I found that there wasn’t a need to set aside any time at all… it saved time. Instead of having to deal with meltdowns, I learned to prevent them. Instead of attempting to get the child to ‘fit’ into the classroom, I learned to make the classroom ‘fit’ her,” said Erica Hamilton, a kindergarten teacher at Hollingsworth East Elementary in Eaton, who had a student with autism in her class.
“I found myself excited to implement the new techniques and try my best to read her to get into her world and to want to be better for her. The things I was learning through PLAY were not only applicable to my student with autism, but they were beneficial to every other typical child in my classroom.”
PLAY Autism Intervention focuses on following the child’s lead and validating their intentions. Dr. Richard Solomon, creator of the PLAY Project, always says: “By doing what your child loves, your child will love being with you. As adults we often bombard children with teaching certain skills or behaviors. PLAY really gives us the opportunity to slow down and pay attention to what the child wants to do and then build on their interests.”
Reach Eddie Mowen Jr. at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @emowen_RH.