After traveling to West Kelowna from across the pond, Donna Toy has assembled her “dream team” and opened a centre for learning and academic support services for children who have been diagnosed with autism and ADHD.
Toy, who has been involved in education and childcare for 18 years, opened the doors of Class of West K in September at the Westside Alliance Church.
“If I am supporting a child, I want to support the whole family. I don’t want the child to be just dropped at the door… I want to know the whole family,” said Toy. “Parents feel very isolated (when their child has autism or ADHD) and I have had parents break down and say, ‘I don’t know how to cope,’ and we sit together and say, ‘Let’s do this together.’”
Collaborating with the parents is what Toy says sets Class of West K a part from centres providing similar services.
“I cannot isolate the child and only give them the strategies. I have brought the parents into it and that has made such a difference to us.”
After working in facilities where she sat across a table with the children she worked with, it was important for her to create a more natural environment where the kids could have fun while they learn.
“We are very much play-based – our therapy is provided through play and very social. We are set up as a classroom, but there is an awful lot of social interaction, very often a cross over, often (they) don’t have social skills a lot of time helping them with counselling and socializing and helping them with social skills. We follow applied behaviour analysis (ABA) – there’s a whole science behind it. The traditional settings that are table based and sitting across the table from a child, it’s not natural (for them),” Toy said.
Applied behaviour analysis is a discipline that focuses on improving social skills, communication, reading and academics, as well as fine motor dexterity, hygiene, grooming, domestic capabilities, punctuality and job commerce. ABA has been shown to significantly improve behaviours and skills while decreasing the need for special services according to Psychology Today.
Toy has gone into several homes to work with the parents to create routines and boundaries for their child to be successful.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that impacts brain development and affects communication, creates difficulty in social interactions, restricts activities and interests and increases the tendency to repeat specific patterns of behaviour according to Autism Canada.
Toy and her team tailor their time with the children to ensure that they are receiving the attention they need.
“I had this one little boy who was having a really rough time. The only way to talk to him was to talk about science. We changed his program so we had more science involved and he did so much better.”
Toy and her team bring in other professionals such as language therapists and occupational therapists to give the extra help to children in need. She has also begun working with students at Mount Boucherie Senior Secondary School that have shown a special interest in mental health and complete their volunteer hours at Class of West K.
For more information about Class of West K visit their website www.classofwestk.org
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