By Gretchen Stadnik Grundon, MA
Special Education Early Childhood Teacher
NFAR's Teachers Grant Program is an opportunity each year for educators working with children diagnosed with autism to apply for funding for specialized programs, materials, and equipment that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
This past year, I applied for a grant for my special education preschool program at Adams school. Though I serve children of varying disabilities,aged 3-5, the majority of my students are diagnosed with autism.
One of the things I felt we could benefit from was new playground equipment for our children. Our school has three preschool classes, two special education and one with typically developing children. Each year, we serve approximately 72 preschool children. Unfortunately, the equipment on our playground is designed for children ages 5-12 and is simply too large and dangerous for many of our smaller children. Just this year alone, two children in the child development program were injured on the play structure because of its size.
The NFAR grant provided the funding for a new, age-appropriate structure. The children were so excited when the new pirate ship play structure arrived!
Students who had previously preferred to wander along the fence or stay on the swings during play time were suddenly interested in climbing and playing with the other kids. Language began to develop on the playground, with the play structure as the medium. One child said to one of my staff, “Come and be a pirate!” and another child said, “Wow, this is really special!”
It has been amazing to see the kids come together, sharing time with their typically developing peers. All of the children with autism in my class show delays in their ability to engage in both functional and pretend play. Something as simple as this play structure has now helped to open their imaginations. And it has been wonderful to watch.
I know that the preschool children at Adams will continue to enjoy this structure for years to come and truly appreciate all that NFAR has done to support the students with autism and their peers in our community!