School's side-by-side program helps students with and without disabilities

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on October 7, 2012 at 6:27 PM

GRAPEVINE -- Texas Star Academy in Grapevine is the only preschool in North Texas that provides an opportunity for children with autism to learn alongside peers without developmental disabilities.

"It's effective in teaching kids with autism and other disabilities to learn skills, such as language skills, how to interact with others, how to play," said Jennifer Friesen, vice-president of therapeutic and autism services at Easter Seals North Texas. "It also teaches their peer models how to be stronger leaders."

Colt Kipp does not have autism. His big brother, Clark, does.

"He started when he was two," said Clark's mother Leslie Kipp. "He was the kind of child that was constantly moving."

Clark graduated from Texas Star. This fall, he moved on to a traditional kindergarten.

"Teachers have commented because there's some other children in his class that have not had that experience, kindergarten, first graders," Leslie Kipp said proudly. "He just knows what to do. Had he not had this environment, it would've taken a year or two of adjustment that now comes natural to him."

Kipp credits Texas Star Academy for helping her son succeed.

The preschool is open to both typically developing children and kids diagnosed with autism ages 12 months to six years.

While it may be clear why a parent would want a child with autism to attend, school officials say it is also a positive experience for typically developing children.

"It teaches them how to work with individuals of all abilities," Friesen said. "And it teaches them that anyone can persevere and overcome obstacles."

The program prepares all students for mainstream classes, which is why Colt is still enrolled. He is learning - and teaching - friends to become Texas Stars.

For more information about the school, visit this site.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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