FLYING HIGH Making dreams come true for children and young adults (and their families) who are on the Autism spectrum or have other disorders of relating and communicating is the goal of Lombard’s newest educational institution, Soaring Eagle Academy (SEA). The academy, which moved to 800 Parkview Blvd. from Burr Ridge at the start of 2016, is a nonprofit therapeutic day school approved by the Illinois Board of Education. Founded in 2010 by a trio of speech language pathologists, Linda Cervenka, Michele Ricamato and Deanna Tyrpak, the school is the only institution in the Midwest that follows the principle of the DIR (Developmental Individual-Differences Relationship) based model. “Children on the spectrum process and respond to information through their senses differently than we do. We interpret students’ over-responsiveness to stimuli in their environment or inability to comprehend as a clue into their individual learning profile and capacities. We do not view it as a negative behavior that needs to be extinguished. We strive to appropriately read and interpret our students’ intentions and actions, supporting them with strategies for coping so they can grow and develop – emotionally, socially and intellectually,” said Tyrpak, who serves as executive director of the Academy. “Parents often tell us that ‘there is so much more to my child than behavior. He is bright. He is awesome,’ and we at SEA agree,” Tyrpak added. “You must look beyond how a child presents on the surface in a body system that is overwhelmed by
Soaring Eagles Academy, Lombard’s newest day school, serves families with children on the Autism spectrum and focuses on capacities rather than limitations.
stimuli and start thinking in terms of their capacities instead of their limitations.” “Since children innately want to please and want to feel competent and not be defiant, if we have a child, for instance, who struggles to follow verbal directions, we look for where the breakdown is occurring. Is it in comprehension, motor planning issues or emotional? We look for the cause and work to emotionally support the child instead of interpreting it as noncompliance that requires a consequence,” she added. “That is why we dreamed of starting a school that would harness each student’s unique interests and abilities to support learning and to build a healthy foundation for social, emotional, communication and intellectual development, helping them become calm, happy, confident individuals who are engaged with others,” Tyrpak said. At Soaring Eagle Academy, which caters to students ages 3 to 21, classrooms are led by a special education teacher and supported by a speech language pathologist, occupational therapist, social worker/ counselor and a DIR specialist. Program Director Dr. Jessica Nicholson Sonntag and DIR Expert Clinicians Linda Cervenka, Michele Ricamato and Jennifer Hein work collaboratively to oversee the educational/social program for each student within the Academy’s philosophy integrating development language models and DIR principle. Each student is assigned a one-to-one teacher assistant who acts as a “player,” wooing the child into an interaction and learning experience. “The assistants help the children, many of whom struggle to stay calm, regulated and
engaged, by wooing them and being their voice, knowing their triggers and supporting them in the midst of challenges, so they are available for learning,” Tyrpak said. “We are blessed to have talented and passionate staff supporting our students – making SEA the magical place it is.” In addition to following the DIR model, which a handful of schools in other parts of the country have also adopted, Soaring Eagle Academy also incorporates Developmental Language Models into their teaching. “Since we were founded by speech language pathologists, we are the only school in the world that integrates Developmental Language Models with the principles of DIR Floortime. We believe that the development of language within social relationships is critical to us as human beings because it is through language that we understand others and the world around us and communicate our ideas and feelings,” she said. “Our work is very complex and that is what makes us so unique. Our teachers devise a unique curriculum for each student, using each student’s individual interests and abilities to guide the direction of their learning. In addition, all learning must be experiential. They need to ‘live the learning’ in order to gain a deep and lasting understanding. Therefore, everything is hands-on and meaningful. Students are naturally drawn to the learning experiences because their interests, developmental levels and learning styles are considered – making the learning meaningful and fun for them,” Tyrpak said.
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