Small class sizes, individual attention help Coen succeed
Coen loves video games, superheroes, swinging, and spending time with his family and dogs. You can be sure he will say hello to you in the hall, or even go out of his way to give a good morning hug. He is always ready to smile (or flex his muscles) for a camera, and he adores his friends and teachers.
This Miriam second-grader, who was diagnosed with autism at age 3, is an integral member of our school community. He is friendly and outgoing, and he receives the support he needs to remain happy and engaged at school the vast majority of the time – which is something that was impossible at his previous school.
When Coen was in kindergarten at a public school, he was overstimulated on a daily basis. Transitions from one activity to another were tough, and a change from his routine resulted in behavior challenges.
Coen’s parents, Emily and Jeff, realized what their son really needed was a small classroom environment – which was simply not an option at his current school. They found Miriam through a Facebook group for St. Louis moms who have children with autism.
Coen became part of Room 1, an intensive classroom for Miriam’s youngest students, in fall 2019. In this room, capped at only six students with a teacher and a teacher assistant, students learn what is expected at school, they work on social skills, and they receive intensive speech and occupational therapy along with their individualized curriculum. Funding for these services is generously supplemented by the Steward Family Foundation.
Head of School Mary Cognata says they developed this classroom to meet a need they were seeing from their prospective families. “We’d had children visit and could identify that Miriam was a great fit for them, but they just needed a little bit extra. Everything about their profiles told us that if we could give them a little more support in the beginning, they would be able to transition into their next Miriam classroom with success.”
Emily says, “The small class size was an immediate benefit for Coen. This allowed him to interact in a more peaceful way without the sensory overload he would get from being in a larger class. Managing class assignments is also easier with the number of teachers available to assist Coen.”
Room 1 emphasizes language development, expressive communication, and building social and self-regulation skills while challenging each child academically, says Andrea Rosenfeld, Room 1 teacher. One of Miriam’s speech-language pathologists, Jill Guilfoy, visits the classroom daily to work on social skills. “There are so many teachable moments throughout the school day,” Ms. Andrea says. “I love the small class size and teaching my students the skills that are necessary to be successful in a larger class at Miriam and beyond.”
Ms. Andrea has observed that the daily, direct social skills instruction has had an impact on the students, including Coen. “Coen has started initiating more play with peers on the playground, which has been exciting to observe!”
Emily agrees that Coen’s social skills have improved, and she appreciates the individualized attention from teachers and other staff. “The teachers are phenomenal and come up with the best tools to help teach the kids how to cope. For example, Coen was having a hard time transitioning from one activity to another. In order to help him, his teacher created a special calendar just for Coen that had a video game theme.”
When asked how long she expects Coen to be at Miriam, Emily said she hopes that one day, Coen will be able to return to public school with his new coping tools in his tool belt. But she isn’t sure yet when that might be. “Only time will tell, but for the moment, he’s exactly where he needs to be. There’s no doubt about that.”