ROCK HILL—The Center for Discovery in Rock Hill, adjacent to the new Children’s Specialty Hospital, says they have made significant strides in supporting children with special needs through its latest venture, the Early Learners and Explorers School Program. 

This new program opened its doors in September, marking a pivotal moment in the provision of essential education and therapy services to the underserved rural communities in Sullivan County.

The program is designed to address the unique educational and developmental needs of children, primarily in grades K-2, who find themselves on the autism spectrum. 

“These are kids that have great difficulty with some of those early requirements for school attendance,” said Dr. Theresa Hamlin, President of The Center for Discovery. 

With nine classrooms, the Early Learners and Explorers School Program offers a dynamic and structured curriculum to nurture fundamental skills. 

Dr. Hamlin and Dr. Robert Dufour, District Superintendent of Sullivan County BOCES, said the program was conceived in response to a needs assessment conducted by the eight component school districts of Sullivan County. 

It became evident that there was a critical shortage of available placements for children on the autism spectrum within the region.

Dr. Dufour reached out to Dr. Hamlin, and their collaboration began, striving to expedite the expansion of the Center’s capacity to meet the growing demand. 

“The two of us have started working together to try to speed up the process,” said Dr. Dufour. 

The initiative involved working closely with the New York State Education Department to secure approvals to open six additional classrooms, with plans for further expansion in the future.

This cooperative approach has been essential in addressing the urgent educational needs of children with autism and other special needs. It ensures that these students can receive high-quality services close to home, preventing them from having to travel to other counties for assistance.

The Early Learners and Explorers School Program focuses on providing a highly structured and supportive environment for the students. Dr. Hamlin explained that many of the students face challenges in areas such as sitting still, attending to a teacher, and engaging with their peers due to sensory sensitivities and emotional regulation difficulties. 

The curriculum, therefore, concentrates on building routines, improving self-regulation, and enhancing social skills.

Early literacy, numeracy, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, executive functioning skills and more are all central to the program. This comprehensive approach prepares the students to reintegrate into a traditional classroom setting successfully. 

The primary goal is to equip students with the tools necessary to transition back to their home districts or local BOCES (Boards of Cooperative Educational Services).

“If we can get these kids when they’re young, our goal is to then transition them back into the public school, and not have to stay here at the Center for Discovery,” said Dr. Hamlin. 

Furthermore, the initiative not only fills a critical gap in the local education system but also ensures that these students and their families receive the support they need.

Read the article in the Sullivan County Democrat