Newtown program for kids with autism comes to New Milford
Published 12:00 am, Wednesday, August 9, 2017
NEW MILFORD — For 11 years, Newtown Youth and Family Services has offered fun activities for children with autism to help them better interact with their peers.
Recognizing such services are toughter for families in nearby Litchfield County to obtain, the nonprofit is launching a program in New Milford this fall.
The “social recreation” program gives children ages 9 to 14 the opportunity to connect with each other and their community, said Erica Salas, project manager for Newtown Youth and Family Services.
“It’s all about teaching them social interaction, talking to each other, building relationships,” she said.
The program will run from 5:30 to 7 p.m. for six Tuesdays beginning Sept. 19. The group will meet at the Walnut Hill Community Church in New Milford, and will take the children on outings into the community.
In the past, children have visited the Brookfield Craft Center, Bearclaw’s Academy of Music and the Children’s Movement Center.
Similar services in Litchfield County are limited, Salas said.
“I’ve talked to many parents in the New Milford area who say they have a hard time finding a group such as this to help them,” she said. “I really think that this will be a great idea for the community.”
While other agencies in Litchfield County serve those with autism, their programs differ from Newtown’s.
Friends of New Milford offers individualized support for a small group of children and adults with autism, Director Donna Ducibella said.
Ducibella said she is excited about the new program.
“I would love honestly to be part of it in any way that they could need help,” she said. “I think it would be a great thing for New Milford.”
Newtown Youth and Family Services’ program is not a therapy group.
“It’s children hanging out, doing fun activities,” Salas said. “It’s not just one student and a therapist having a one-on-one conversation. They’re actually working on interactions they’re going to have at school or at the playground.”
In surveys, parents have said the method is effective, noting their kids don’t want to miss a session, and have set up playdates with other children in the group.
“They are more talkative in their schools and they’re better at building relationships,” Salas said. “Most of them form friendships with one another.”
Parents said their children have improved at talking through their issues, rather than lashing out when they are upset, she said.
This fall, the organization is launching a nationwide program, Sibshops, for the siblings of children with special needs.
These children often feel neglected and worry about their siblings. The sessions will allow them to discuss their feelings while playing games, Salas said.
The program runs every other Tuesday at New Milford Faith Church and every other Thursday at Newtown Youth Academy, so parents can drop off one child at Sibshops and the other at the autism group.
Sibshops is $30, while the autism group is $165 and limited to 12 children.