The district-wide open house in the Neosho R-5 School District Monday provided the unveiling of the new Neosho NCIS Autism Program facility to family members of the children served there, in the former Jehovah’s Witnesses building on Cemetery Rd. at U.S. 60. A public open house is planned for sometime in September.

Stacey Tracy, R-5 director of special services, revealed that the Neosho Center for Intervention and Support is a partnership with Crowder College, which has worked with the school district the past two years to build the autism program.

“Through that partnership we’ve been able to provide services to our kids with significant disabilities with autism and to give them very specialized instruction,” Tracy said. “At the Neosho School District, part of our mission is to maximize the potential of every student in the school district, and so when students don’t learn in the same manner that non-disabled kids learn, we really want to focus in and have worked for the past three or four years significantly trying to get, ‘How do we teach students in the way they can learn and maximize their potential?’ Because not all students learn in the same way, not everybody is successful in the same classroom.”

Tracy said the partnership with Crowder has enabled developing a program that will meet the needs of students with severe autism so they can move forward in their learning.

She noted the program began four years ago with one student in a regular classroom on campus, and it has evolved, moving into what she calls an “amazing facility” this year. Tracy instructed that all three classrooms hold natural learning environments like most standard classrooms.

She said kids get one-on-one instruction with an adult in therapy rooms that are set up for very specific and specialized teaching programs, and they work in groups, to work on the skills they need to be as independent as possible.

“We also have mirrored rooms, where under a one-way mirror parents can come in and watch their children in their natural learning environment without disrupting the child,” she said.

She noted that other staff can observe how to best work with that child without disrupting and distracting them.

“The facility has a lot of bonuses for us,” said Tracy.

Jamie Emery, behavior support center director, Crowder College, said 12 students are currently enrolled in the NCIS Autism Program. Emery said many of those need work on communication skills.

 “They’re working on social deficits, eye contact, being able to communicate with their peers and family members,” she said. “We’re working on some life skills, that can be as simple as tying their shoe or loading the dishwasher. There’s a wide range of skills that we can be working on.”

Emery said the students from pre-school up to seventh grade attend Monday through Friday, and the students have integration opportunities to move into a regular classroom in the school district.

“That is something that is unique to this program,” she concluded.

Jessi Williams said her 5-year old son Nathan has a major problem with communication skills, and is in fact non-verbal. Williams said she is pleased with the one-on-one instruction Nathan has received from the NCIS program after just beginning during summer school.

“He’s starting to use pictures to communicate instead of words, but we have noticed an increase in his pictures,” she stated. “It’s very, very helpful to us at home and at school and in public and everywhere.”

Jenny Schatzley and her 10-year old son Anthony were the lynchpin for the program. Schatzley said Anthony was diagnosed with severe autism at the age of 2, and began a very intense ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) autism program at 3, but had to mainstream to the public school when their grant for the program ended when he was 7.

She said Tracy was just coming onboard at that time, and jumped aboard with her on trying therapy with Anthony by himself in a classroom with a paraprofessional. Schatzley said a second student arrived in the second year, there were seven in year three, and now 12 are being served in this fourth year of the program in the new building and a wonderful partnership with Crowder College.

“So our goal as parents, we’re ultimately trying to raise awareness and let people know, ‘Hey, this program exists!’” Schatzley exclaimed. “There’s very few in the area in public schools that even do this. It just doesn’t happen, unfortunately the children just get mainstreamed. So Neosho has been wonderful in incorporating this into a public school system.”

Schatzley said the therapy incorporated by the center is ‘a whole different world’ than mainstreaming the children into a special education department classroom in one of the district’s regular schools.

She explained, “Autism is a whole different field in its own. So they really need a different kind of therapy. Some of them who are higher functioning can handle it– those of them that can talk – most of our kiddos here are non-verbal, so applied behavior analysis is what has been proving to get them out.”

Schatzley said Anthony was stuck in his own world prior to ABA therapy, and they were unable to take him anywhere.

“I mean, we lost our child, we completely lost him,” she noted. “And then from the time of him receiving ABA therapy, in a matter of two to three weeks he started coming out of his world and becoming a part of ours. I believe 100 percent in ABA therapy. We’ve been blessed with a public school to try to create this curriculum and program for the kids.”

Tracy and Emery noted that surrounding school districts have taken notice and are studying the Neosho NCIS Autism Program to see how they may help autistic children in their communities.