St. John of God services for children with autism

St. John of God services for children with autism

autism-webCaption: Cameron Iannacone, left, and Reese Malloy play at a Here We Grow Learning Center operated by St. John of God Community Services, which has facilities in Gloucester and Salem counties. Here We Grow is open to the community as a full time child care center and preschool for children, including those with disabilities.







Autism is a word that most have heard but few truly understand. Autism is a developmental delay that affects one in every 88 children and the diagnosis is being given more frequently at a younger age. When parents are told their child has a developmental delay, it is important to know that help is available.

St. John of God Community Services in Westville Grove (Gloucester County) and Pittsgrove (Salem County) has been providing services for children and adults with disabilities for nearly 50 years. These include Early Intervention Services for children from birth to 3 years old, and preschool classes for children 3-5 years of age within their Here We Grow Learning Centers.

The St. John of God Here We Grow Learning Centers are located in Westville Grove, Gloucester County and Pittsgrove, Salem County.

Here We Grow (HWG) is open to the community as a full time child care center and preschool for children aged 6 weeks to 5 years. What makes HWG different from other preschools is that it is designed to include children with disabilities from 2-and-half to 5 years of age. It provides an environment where children with and without disabilities can grow and learn together. This inclusive environment is beneficial to the children with and without disabilities.  At the heart of the program is the belief that all children are special and will learn from each other.

This inclusive setting has been found to be especially successful for children with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The structure and consistent schedules help the children adjust to the program. The children with ASD learn how to play with their friends and have role models for language and social skills. The Here We Grow staff are trained to provide the appropriate support to all of the children so they can succeed within the educational environment.

Cameron is a 2-and-half year old with ASD. She started attending Here We Grow two mornings a week in January as a part of a pilot project supported by the NJ Early Intervention System. The “Early Intervention Transition Project” is designed to prepare child with developmental delays for the school program they will attend at age 3. Cameron’s mother has this to say about the program:

“In the few months that Cameron has attended the EI Transition Project I have seen a noticeable difference. Her therapists agree that her language, play skills and social behavior has improved dramatically. The staff at Here We Grow is wonderful and I could not be happier.”

If a parent has a child that is under the age of 3 years and is concerned about his or her development, they can have a free comprehensive evaluation through the NJ Early Intervention System by calling 888-653-4463. If the child is over 3 years old, the family should contact their local school district Child Study Team. For more information about Here We Grow Learning Centers or St. John of God Community Services Programs please contact Denise Murray at 856-848-4700 ext.1141.

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