PALS entering third year

Published 10:29 pm Thursday, June 11, 2009

Misty Willis breathed a sigh of relief when she heard the PALS preschool program would continue for the 2009-2010 school year.

Willis’ son, Asher, is in one of two PALS classes at Clanton Elementary School. He was diagnosed with pervasive development disorder (PDD), a form of autism, which affects speech and motor skills.

“When your child gets diagnosed with autism, it’s like you mourn their death,” Willis told the Chilton County Board of Education in a recent meeting, expressing concerns about the possible lack of funding for the program.

“Without this program, we are left by ourselves to train ourselves to be their behavior therapists, and we can’t do it,” added Willis, who has two other children with disabilities.

Asher is 4-years-old but is currently on a 2-year-old level, she explained. But the program has made a world of difference in his behavior.

“When he started the program, he could say five words. Now he knows several phrases and broken sentences,” she said.

While Asher could regress at anytime and go back to not speaking, he is interacting socially with his classmates and teachers. This social development becomes evident when Asher and his mom go out in public.

“Everybody knows who he is,” Willis said.

PALS (Preschoolers Acquiring Learning Strategies) will be entering its third year in 2009-2010. There are two PALS classes at Clanton Elementary and one class at Maplesville. In each class are seven typically developing students who fill the roles of peer models for the special needs children.

The intended result is that the special needs children will imitate the behavior of their peers. At the same time, typically developing children learn not to be influenced by stigmas often attached to special needs children.

“Children who are typically developing are introduced really well with children who have special needs and are also learning academic skills and are ready to enter kindergarten when they leave our program,” said Holly Levey, program supervisor and preschool coordinator. “The special needs children are able to be much more successful and are more prepared for kindergarten as well.”

Levey said the Maplesville class is already full. As of Thursday, there was one opening in a class at CES.

For more information about PALS, call 280-3000.