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New school in west Edmonton aims to better support autistic kids

Aminah Karout’s five-year-old son, Mouin, was diagnosed with autism in October 2022.

The Edmonton-area mom had her suspicions that he was on the spectrum, but the three-hour assessment confirmed it.

Following the diagnosis, she and the rest of her family worked to find him proper support. 

Karout said her son has access to therapeutic services and nutritional support funded through a provincial program, but it’s been a struggle finding educational support as Mouin begins school full-time.

“When I was transitioning him from pre-K to kindergarten … it was a struggle,” she told CBC News Tuesday.

“I have two other daughters that are going to public [school] and they love it, but a kindergarten classroom would be 28 to 30 students. My son was used to eight to 10 students in a classroom, so that would be disregulated for him.”

Karout was relieved when she learned children on the autism spectrum would have a school that caters specifically to their needs as early as this fall.

Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton, which provides support services for children with autism and other developmental disorders, recently announced plans for an independent private school exclusively for students on the spectrum.

The organization, which has also been helping Karout’s son with various supports, is retrofitting a former car dealership in west Edmonton near 174th Street and 102nd Avenue for educational purposes.

It’s expected to open by September, according to Thomas Pasterfield, the organization’s intake program co-ordinator.

He told CBC News the school is looking to provide an emotional regulation approach rather than a behavioural approach.

“We’re hoping to demonstrate how to support neurodiverse students who have challenging behaviours, but also to demonstrate to the community what this kind of programming could look like,” he said.

Pasterfield said the school will follow the provincial government’s curriculum objectives, but also focus on adapting lessons to each student since some children might require more support than others.

A classroom is pictured with a chalkboard at the front and empty desks and chairs.
The hope is for students to spend a couple of years at the private school before eventually transitioning to a community school. (Shutterstock)

Pasterfield said classrooms would be capped at about eight students each. About 20 students are already enrolled in kindergarten classes, and 24 students are in grades 1 and 2. Tuition is $9,500 per student each year.

“But we are hopeful that some community fundraising and some sponsors from the community will step up to support so that some of those costs can be decreased for families,” Pasterfield said.

He said the hope is for students to spend a couple of years at the private school before eventually transitioning to a community school. It would give educators the time to equip kids with the skills they need to be successful in social settings.

“We want other school leaders to come and take tours and see what we’re trying to do in the new school in order to bridge more understanding and build inclusive spaces across the city and surrounding areas,” Pasterfield said.

Karout said she was immediately drawn to the school when she heard about it. Her son currently goes to a school tailored for students with disabilities more complex than autism. It requires parents to reapply each year.

Because professionals would provide hands-on support with many students, she believes students at the independent school would progress further in their education.

“This is what we’ve been needing for years,” she said.

“I’m willing to advocate and do whatever I can to get him in and to support him in any way because if I don’t advocate for my child, I don’t see any other person doing it for him.”

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