Communication skills are ticket to learning

School specializes in helping developmentally delayed kids
By Paul Archipley | Oct 24, 2013
Courtesy of: Kayce Aspen Shiloh School teachers did a ladybug unit this summer, and students got a chance to release them into the school garden.  Here the kids observe the ladybugs as part of the school’s play-based, real-life learning curriculum.

Whether a child is hearing impaired, autistic, has Asperger syndrome or other developmental challenges, educators know that teaching him is equivalent to fitting the proverbial square peg into a round hole.

Developmentally delayed and lacking age appropriate communication skills, that child can be in trouble even before reaching kindergarten.

And it’s downhill from there.

At the Shiloh School of Language Development, educators help those children achieve the communication skills they’ll need to progress.

The private, non-profit Edmonds school specializes in a developmental curriculum that zeroes in on each child’s particular needs.

According to founder Kayce Aspen, early intervention can make all the difference.

Many, for example, are visual learners. So Shiloh’s teachers use sign language as well as speech when working with children who don’t process information like their peers.

The goal, if possible, is to help them meet expectations for their age group.

“As they age, social expectations change,” Aspen explained. “He’s not allowed to do at age 6 what he could do at 3.

“But it they’re missing social nuances, they act out.”

Sometimes, teachers may not be aware the child is in trouble.

“If he can sit in a circle,” Aspen said, “he can go to kindergarten.

“But the problem now is he must also listen.

“Now, it’s almost a goal to have kids sit quietly in a chair. But that’s not how kids learn.”

If they are visual learners, “you can talk to these kids all day long, and they won’t get it,” Aspen said.

When children don’t understand, and begin “acting out,” adults often assume they have behavior problems. Aspen said that’s often not the case.

Lacking communication skills and an understanding of their options, children act out because they don’t see any other way.

“I can’t tell you how many parents have told me their 5 or 6 year old is drawing on the walls,” she said. “They’re labeled as a behavior problem.

“But if I (the child) had other options, why would I make that choice?

“If they willfully do something they shouldn’t, then there’s a behavioral problem.

“Children don’t see the world the same way as adults.”

At Shiloh, teachers talk to kids about choices. In the beginning, children aren’t aware they even had options, Aspen said.

“With language delayed kids who have no idea what they’re doing, they get into trouble. They wonder, ‘How did I get here?’” Aspen explained.

Shiloh has the advantage of low student-teacher ratios – 5-to-1 or lower.

With a five-day program during the school year, and a special summer program as well, teachers have the time to prepare those kids for public school, if they’re able, or for other options if they’re not.

“Public school is not reality for everyone,” Aspen said. “I tell parents our expectation is that each child is the best he can be – whatever that means.”

Currently offering preschool, kindergarten and first grade classes, Shiloh specializes in “visual motor learning strategies.”

“Kids who are moving all the time? They’re the ones who need to be here,” Aspen said.

Perhaps they learn cooking, which includes math through measurements, or the basics of chess strategies, or learning to read music.

“It’s all about patterns,” Aspen said. “They do great with patterns.”

Despite the school’s intensive learning environment, Shiloh is comparable to other private early learning schools – $700 a month for full day kindergarten or first grade.

Aspen, who is working on a doctorate in counseling psychology, envisions a preschool to 12th grade school some day where children who struggle in public school could excel.

“Once you get them caught up in language and functioning well, interacting more normally, are they going to be able to learn in a public school classroom with 28 other kids?” she asked.

“Even though they function well in this environment doesn’t guarantee they will in a public school.”

Until she attains that dream, however, she and her staff at Shiloh hope to give young people a chance.

“They need an advocate,” Aspen said. “And it needs to start young.”

Shiloh School is at 23702 101st Place W, Edmonds.

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