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Under the right circumstances, prescription medication can help

as well. Tere is no medical treatment or cure for autism, but medication can help manage associated conditions, such as attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Medication, like therapies and changes in diet, may be beneficial for some, but not for others, so talk to your doctor about your options.

Education Finding the best course of education for your child with autism

can be tricky. Fortunately, the wide variety of schools on the First Coast allows parents to choose what’s right for their child.

Melissa Sefton is a First Coast mom whose 11-year-old son,

Watson, was diagnosed with autism when he was 8 years old. Watson is very high-functioning, and Melissa decided general education was best for him. “I wanted him to be around kids who he could model. So, we found a small private school to put him in, where they were able to work with us, and the classes are smaller.” Melissa, along with Watson’s psychiatrist and behavioral therapist, has developed a relationship with the school to help further her son’s success.

Maxwell, Jill’s son, attends Atlantic Coast High School, a general

education school that offers exceptional student education (ESE) courses for students with special needs. Jill felt starting in a general education environment was the least restrictive way to understand Maxwell’s abilities and allow him to learn from his peers, but adds that the right choice in education is different for everyone. “It depends on the child and the functioning level of the child.”

Some schools are dedicated specifically to students with special

needs. One such school on the First Coast is North Florida School of Special Education (NFSSE), which incorporates therapy and life skills to serve students ages 6 to 22 years old with mild to moderate developmental disorders. “[Te curriculum] is differentiated instruction. It's multi-sensory, it uses a variety of techniques, [and] it covers all academic areas,” says Bonnie Esser, director of academics. “All of those things are needed by the autistic population.”

Desiree Jomant, a teacher at

NFSSE, adds that the school’s small student-to-teacher ratio helps serve students who benefit from more individualized education. “We’re really aware of all of their needs, the things that make them all unique and how to handle each of their behaviors, [and] how to make the curriculum modified to meet each individual’s specific needs.”

All children with autism are

different, so it’s important to explore different education options to determine what’s best for your student.

Autism Resources on the First Coast EDUCATION

Te Broach School 904-637-0300

Daniel Academy 904-296-1055 x2389

DePaul School of Northeast Florida 904-223-3391

Greenwood School 904-726-5000

Jacksonville School for Autism 904-732-4343

Te Jericho School 904-744-5110

Te Keystone Academy 904-619-6071

Little Star Center 904-928-0112

Morning Star School 904-721-2144

North Florida School of Special Education 904-724-8323

Support In the world of autism, finding support helps keep your family

happy and healthy. Organizations on the First Coast specializing in autism and mental health support include the Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD), the HEAL (Healing Every Autistic Life) Foundation, and the Federation of Families of Northeast Florida, where Jill is a family advocate. Tese organizations provide information and resources for individuals on the autism spectrum and their families, and can help connect you to the support you need.

Counseling is also extremely helpful for parents of children with

autism. Janeen Herskovitz is a licensed mental health counselor on the First Coast whose practice, Puzzle Peace Counseling, offers group and individual therapy for parents and siblings of autistic children. Janeen’s own journey with therapy began when her 16-year-old son Ben was diagnosed at the age of 3, prompting her to seek help for her own mental health. She believes that in order to provide the best possible care for children, parents have to prioritize their personal well-being. “It feels counterintuitive to put yourself first, but there’s a reason why on airplanes they tell you that if the plane’s going down, put on your oxygen mask before you put it on your child,” she says. “If you can’t breathe, you can’t help anybody.”

Group therapy sessions help by fostering a sense

of community among parents. “Tey have that camaraderie...knowing that no matter what they say in that group, it’s not going to be judged,” Janeen says. “Tere are not too many places where they can do that.” She adds that therapy can reflect positively on children by diffusing negativity at home. “I think our kids that have autism have a heightened sense of the feelings…and the stressors around them. If things aren’t good in the home, they can feel that.”

Photos courtesy of North Florida School of Special Education Family! | 49

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