School impacting the lives of children with autism

- Children, diagnosed with a condition like autism, often have a hard time emotionally connecting with others.  Others have a hard time talking. Instructors at The Monarch School in Houston have figured out a way to often break through those barriers with groundbreaking therapy.         

"What I do in this room is connect with a child," says Sharon Duval, director of speech, language & DIR at The Monarch School. Meeting and working with Sharon Duval is one of the first places that children receive help at this school. She helps spark emotions that open up the world of communication and prepares a child to learn. 

"In order for learning to have meaning, a child must make emotional connections," explains Duval. She has a clever way of doing that through non-verbal conversations. Simple things like a smile or pointing and gestures, anything that sparks interest and happiness in a child, like Balazs. 

"It's so very important to meet the child where they are, to discover who they really are," says Duval. "We have a tendency, especially with children who have individual differences, to focus on what they do, their behavior, and that often defines who they are - but that's not who they are."

Through play, Sharon is able to find out "who they are", sometimes before their parents can. She hears stories like this, all the time: 

"A mom saying that she even questioned whether her child loved her, so that when the child reached out to hug her for the first time and looked her in the eyes for the first time, she just started crying and that's what happens," says Duval. It's what happens, when someone like Duval can help figure out what makes a child "tick." She believes we often come to the wrong conclusions about what a child is thinking when they can't signal and show their feelings. 

"When a child has difficulty looking at a person because their visual system becomes overwhelmed and we push a child to look at us, not knowing that we are overwhelming them," says Duval. She teaches her students tools they can use to overcome communication barriers, like lack of eye contact. Through play, she's able to help a child verbally communicate, problem solve, and experience a range of emotions. Many parents tell us their child never connected with them, until they got help through this process of DIR (Developmental Individual-Differences, Relationship-Based Approach). 

"Most times in all honesty for most kids - it's after the first session - I think it's because they're hungry - they're eager to make the connection and then the child meets someone who takes the time to discover who they are," says Duval. It's like fitting pieces of a puzzle together, getting a child to think, relate, and communicate, and transforming the dynamics of their family forever.

For more information on The Monarch School, visit http://www.monarchschool.org/.


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