Where Autistic Kids Make Incredible Strides

A special school in Hartford offers help for autistic children

The odds of being diagnosed with autism are one in 150. Here in Connecticut, the number of cases grows each year. 

Due to the high need for services for autistic children, a Hartford school launched a unique program for kids with autism nine years ago called the River Street School.

Aiden Millen, a student there, was born the perfect baby, his parents said. He had big blue eyes and a giant smile to match, but as time passed, Aiden's parents noticed he wasn't quite connecting with them.

"The biggest thing is, he would get frustrated and he would tantrum because he couldn't tell us what he wanted," his mom, Cristin Millen, said.

At 20 months, a doctor diagnosed Aiden with autism.

"He had no words. We used picture cards with him. So, if it was snack time, we showed him a picture of logos and goldfish and crackers and he would give us the picture," Millen said.

However, now, at nearly 4 years old, Aiden has made incredible strides.

Mom, Cristin said it's all thanks to his new school, the River Street autism program at Coltsville.

Clinical director Dr. Kathy Dyer said many school districts don't have the capacity to work with autistic children, but their program is different.

"The staff members are comprehensively trained. They go through an intensive series of courses and they have to take examinations. They need to know the child’s strengths and interests and preferences and then they need to integrate those preferences into the learning activity for the children," Dyer said.

Speech pathologists work individually with the kids to teach them language and motor skills.  When it's time to let off some steam, students can even visit the sensory room, where they're able to swing and run around.

But by far, the biggest emphasis is on communication and socialization. Aiden no longer needs picture cards to express his needs.

“He was in his room this morning playing and he came in my room and said, 'Help please,' and it's just so comforting for him knowing he can get what he needs by using his words. It's just a huge accomplishment," Millen said.

Aiden's mom said River Street has done wonders for her son and has improved the quality of life for their family as well.

"I’m happiest when a family says I had a vacation this year, or a mom says to me, now I can go to the gym," Dyer said.
“The social aspect of meeting other parents, the speech, having the behaviors under control, potty training, it's just all a huge source of support. It’s life changing, it’s absolutely life changing when you have a good program," said Millen.

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