Thanks to the generosity of regional grant givers such as the NHEC Foundation, summer programming has been offered – at no cost – to local children with cognitive and physical disabilities. The program (which began in 2012) provides individualized, direct instruction for students to improve their social-emotional and recreational skills through enjoyable activities with peers. Therapeutic horseback riding is provided during this program. Thus far, school aged children and teens from SAU 9, SAU 13, and MSAD 72 have attended.
Another successful initiative includes Friday Café: Making Food & Friends. Beginning in the fall of 2014, this program ran for the entire 2014-2015 school year. Its success has allowed for the program to return every fall for teens on the autism spectrum, providing them with a safe place to have fun with friends while learning skills (such as cooking) to increase their independence. The program was duplicated for middle school students with autism on Thursday nights (Thursday Café) in April 2015. In January 2017, Friday Café DAY began for young adults, primarily with autism spectrum disorders. All three programs are free to participants. The Café initiative’s popularity has created the need to add a third evening session, Wednesday Café, for September 2017.
Beyond the local school systems, we are striving to expand the reach of our activities. We are also broadening the scope of programs offerings. In January 2016, our recreational therapists began working with water safety educators to offer swim lessons to individuals on the autism spectrum. This is extremely important to the Laura Foundation; drowning is among the leading causes of death of individuals with autism. Swim lessons returned in 2017 with the generous funding support from Autism Speaks.