School in Works for Autistic Youth

October 30, 2006

By Editorial Staff
Chicago Sun-Times

Easter Seals today breaks ground on a unique $28 million school for autistic children.

The building itself will be therapeutic, designed to offset autistic students' hypersensitivity to sights and sounds:

    * The windows will be high off the floor. When students look out, they'll see trees and clouds, rather than street scenes that can be distracting.
    * Building materials will dampen classroom noise, especially low-frequency rumbles that in some autistic students can drown out conversations.
    * "The room is calming," said Tim Muri, president of Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago.
    * The indirect lighting will cut down on glare that can be especially harsh to autistic students. And there won't be any buzzing from fluorescent lights.
    * Conventional fire alarms sound so painfully loud to autistic kids that some freeze and others scatter. In the new school, fire alarms will play "Stars and Stripes Forever."

A music alarm "is not quiet, but it's not devastating," said Stephen Porges, a University of Illinois at Chicago autism expert who helped design the school.

The Therapeutic School and Center for Autism Research, 1939 W. 13th St., also will accommodate autism researchers from the nearby UIC campus and other centers.

Easter Seals will close its therapeutic school at 1950 W. Roosevelt, but continue operating another autism school in Tinley Park.

Residential living
The new school will serve students age 3 to 21 from city and suburban school districts. The $151-per-day tuition will be paid by the student's home district, and state and federal funds.
It will be built in four phases. Phase 1, including classrooms for 150 students, will open in 12 to 15 months. Phase 2 will include a swimming pool and gym; phase 3 will include classrooms for another 100 students, and phase 4 will be residential living for 32 people with autism, mostly adults.

Autism covers a broad range of difficulties in socializing and communication.

Autistic children often exhibit repetitive behaviors and are painfully sensitive to certain tastes, smells and sounds.

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