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FAMILY FUN: Plenty of opportunities for families with special needs kids

There are many inclusive activities in the community for youth with special needs. Nora Stevenson, 12, of Kentville, recently was in Stage Prophets' production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with her mom Jody and sister Anna.
There are many inclusive activities in the community for youth with special needs. Nora Stevenson, 12, of Kentville, recently was in Stage Prophets' production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat with her mom Jody and sister Anna.

ANNAPOLIS VALLEY - We are fortunate in the Valley to have a wide variety of programs specifically designed for youth with special needs.

Twelve-year-old Nora Stevenson of Kentville has a rare genetic condition that causes most aspects of her development to be delayed, including her cognitive abilities. 

Through Nora, and her role as a resource teacher at KCA, her mom Jody Stevenson is very familiar with available programs and resources in the Valley for special needs youth.

The Sensory Motor Instructional Leadership Experience (S.M.I.L.E.) Program has been running at Acadia for more than 30 years. Through the program, children three years and older are paired with a university student volunteer to work on becoming physically literate, says director Dr. Roxanne Seaman.

Stevenson’s 14-year-old daughter Anna, a junior instructor with the program, loves every minute she spends with her “little buddy.”  Stevenson says Nora has formed most of her closest friendships through S.M.I.L.E.

Participants are referred to S.M.I.L.E. by resource teachers, school administrators, and/or health-related professionals. Parents can also contact Andrew Roach, program co-ordinator, at smile@acadiau.ca.

Also, the Free Spirit Therapeutic Riding Association (FSTRA), based in Aylesford, works with individuals of all ages and abilities using horses. Executive director Brittany Pulsifer says FSTRA strives to meet the personal goals of every client and develop other incremental goals based on ability.

Each year, FSTRA offers two 12-week sessions (fall and spring) and a summer camp. Programs fill up quickly, so parents should email fstra12@gmail.com to learn how to sign up.

The Alexander Society for Inclusive Arts, based in Wolfville, provides arts-based programing for children with special needs and to fill a need for more inclusive learning opportunities.

Founder and executive director Kathleen Purdy says through their creative arts programs, employing drama, storytelling, music, movement and visual arts, participants can enhance their physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. 

The Alexander Society also offers developmental assessments on children who may be labelled with a learning disability and who are experiencing challenges in school with reading, writing and math. 

Following the assessment a program is done on an individual basis.

Rowan’s Room is a respite and developmental centre in Middleton offering programs for children with developmental exceptionalities such as ASD, SPD, OCD, ADD/ADHD and anxiety. Elizabeth Mason-Squires, executive director, says they have created a supportive and sensory friendly environment to help children learn to self-manage/regulate as well as develop age appropriate social and life skills.

Mason-Squires says by using an adapted curriculum for each student, they can focus on children’s individual strengths while providing the tools they need to navigate any problem areas.

Rowan’s Room offers pre-primary/primary transition programs, co-schooling, tutoring and respite care. Tuition support is available.

The Autism Centre in Kingston provides support for children, teens and adults with autism (ages 18 months to 50+) living from Windsor to Annapolis Royal. Programs offered include parent-tot drop ins, pre-school playgroups, school-aged and teen-aged social groups, and art and family events.

This Christmas, the Autism Centre is sponsoring a quiet Santa program at the County Fair and Greenwood malls. Quiet Santa involves private visits with Santa for children with autism. Lights are turned down low and the piped-in music is turned off. Each child has a 15-minute "appointment" to minimize waiting. This year, Quiet Santa will take place in Greenwood Nov. 27 and in New Minas Dec. 4. 

When Donna Randell of New Minas discovered there was still a need for specialized programming for older children with autism, she started Kaleidoscope. Two of her adult children have autism. And seeing a need for programs for youth aged 15 and older, she started this daytime program for students and recent graduates to meet with support workers to build and maintain friendships with their peers in a fun environment.

Stevenson highly recommends Girl Guides/Boy Scouts, Kentville Silver Gliders, Stage Prophets, Centre Stage Theatre, and Young’s Karate and Fitness.

Overall, Stevenson says every kid is different and has different interests and different abilities. Find what interests your child and pursue that, and reach out and look for parents to talk to.

“You need to dig deep and sometimes you just have to be creative,” says Randell. “Thinking positive and getting involved is the best way ahead!”

Go online:

FSTRA - http://www.fstra.org/

SMILE: http://smile.acadiau.ca/home.html

Alexander Society: http://www.alexandersociety.org

Kaleidoscope: https://www.facebook.com/kaleidoscopenewminas/

Rowan’s room: http://www.rowansroom.ca/ 

Autism centre: http://autismannapolisvalley.ca/

Access Entertainment card: http://easterseals.ca/english/access-2-entertainment-card

Kings Transit: http://www.kingstransit.ns.ca/Docs/Policies/Attendant%20Fare%20Policy%20for%20Disability%20Clients.pdf

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