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Millard program teaches social skills to autistic students

July 20, 2019

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The Millard Public Schools District in Omaha intends to offer new programs this coming school year to enhance the social skills of students with autism and other intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The programs will use recreation specialists and volunteer peers to teach basic skills, such as starting a conversation or how to order an Uber, the Omaha World-Herald reported .

The district will team up with the Munroe-Meyer Institute to provide the programs. One program will focus on middle school and high school students, while the other concentrates on students in the district’s young adult program.

During weekly therapy, students will use role playing to practice conversation and develop skills such as how to make a social invitation, maintain and end discussion, and give and receive compliments.

Karoly Mirnics, director of Munroe-Meyer, said schools typically offer work training programs to help students live fruitful, professional lives. But career education is not the only sufficient element.

“We are forgetting, in a way, that social component and that social isolation,” Mirnics said.

If a student’s life skills, the so-called soft skills, aren’t enhanced they are far less likely to stay employed, despite them being aptly trained for a career, he said.

The programs developed out of a five-year institute study in the Westside Community Schools.

Mirnics added the study indicated that improving social skills can minimize isolation and boost interaction.

Initially, the programs will serve around 30 students, he said.

In middle school and high school, students will receive about 30 to 45 minutes of one-on-one therapy a week during school. They’ll also spend about three hours a month at recreation and leisure activities in the community.

Michael Crawford, director of the institute’s department of recreational therapy, said he’s hoping that recreation therapy gets embraced in Nebraska as much as other special education services. The department will staff the initiative and collect statistics on its impact.

The Hattie B. Munroe Foundation will fund the programs at more than $70,000 annually for the first year, and it plans to continue funding for another two years after an evaluation of first-year progress.

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Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com

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