Established and run by the Organisation for the Protection of Persons with Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders of the Prefecture of Kastoria, the Day Center is located at the heart of a small yet lively community (Maniakoi) offering opportunities for support, social interaction and development to children, adolescents and young adults with autism (ages 4 to 25) and their families.
Each person’s program is planned on the basis of his/her individual needs and in close collaboration with the family, the school as well as every other important person in his/her life. Sessions are provided on an individual or group basis in accordance with current research and methodology. The fundamental goal is the improvement of people’s day-to-day lives and their full participation in the community.
Some of the programs and activities offered are listed below:
- Academic skills training
- Cognitive, communication and social skills training
- Community-based activities
- Daily living skills training
- Self-regulation training
- Sensory processing activities
- Vocational skills training
At the same time, support is provided to family members in the form of individual counseling sessions as well as regular group meetings (parents and siblings’ support groups).
During its first two years of operating the Day Centre provided services to almost 20 children, adolescents and young adults with autism and their families, living in the region of Kastoria.
Another important constitutional aim of the Day Centre is the establishment of links with the community through the elaboration of initiatives such as:
- Intervening in primary and secondary school settings to inform and collaborate with school staff members
- Raising positive awareness across the community by organizing relevant events
- Setting up volunteering programs
- Networking with other organisations and providers of social care services, local community authorities and other stakeholders
Some of the most notable so far initiatives include the following :
The name of the game: ‘All different, all equal’
Every year to honor the World Autism Awareness Day (2nd of Autism) the Day Centre, in collaboration with the Administrations of Primary and Secondary Education of Kastoria, is organizing athletic games epitomizing the spirit of inclusion and promoting positive awareness. Primary and secondary education students in the autism spectrum of the region of Kastoria participate in athletic games together with fellow students without an autism diagnosis. Prior to the games the participants are trained together in their respective school settings.
In the last two years the games took place with the support of the Regional Unit of Kastoria, the Municipality of Kastoria as well as the generous donations of a number of local businesses. A vital component of the games is the contribution of numerous volunteers, the presence of whom constitutes an important source of energy and passion! Athletes and athletic clubs of the region further back the initiative.
2013-2014 Autism Awareness: Schools Campaign
The main goal of the campaign was to promote understanding and empathy across teachers and students in primary school settings of the region of Kastoria through multiple activities such as:
- Informative speeches to school staff and parents of every school
- Experiential and enhancing knowledge activities for primary school students
- Visits to the Day Centre
The campaign was undertaken in the school year 2013-2014 with almost 60% of the primary schools of the area participating in it.
For two consecutive years (2013-2014 and 2014-2015) the Day Centre in collaboration with the 9th primary school and the special education primary school of Kastoria are undertaking a project to overcome the phenomenon of inter- school bullying, reported in previous years between the students of the two units, which are housed together.
More specifically, the program involves pairing students with disabilities and students without disabilities during school hours, such as break time, so as to play and enjoy their time together.
After its first year of running, staff of both schools reported a lower degree of bullying incidents between the students while evidencing signs of long-lasting relationships (i.e. spontaneous visits to the other school, increased common playtime).
Collaboration with school settings
The Day Centre’s staff holds regular meetings with the school teachers of the people attending the Centre’s daily programs in a view to:
- Promote effective inclusion of students in mainstream education
- Provide support and guidance to school staff
- Secure generalization of skills across settings
- Establish a solid support-network for parents
Celebrating in the community
Every year the end of the summer is marked by one big celebration held in the exterior of the day centre in association with local cultural clubs. Game and fun activities for children, contests and other events give yet another opportunity to mingle, enjoy while further establishing bonds with neighbors and friends. Usually, the day ends with pop-corn and an autism-theme movie screening!
Making new friends
The Day Centre welcomes children, adolescents and adults who whish to join the daily programs of same-age individuals with autism in an opportunity to meet them, form friendly relationships and make a difference in their lives as well as those of their families.
Contributions to Conferences
The Day Center from the beginning participates in the Panhellenic autism conferences with relevant contributions.
The Day Centre offers placement and training opportunities to health, mental health and education professionals while aspiring to become an important contributor to autism-related research (conducting relevant studies, developing intervention tools e.t.c.).
The interdisciplinary team includes experts of the following specialties:
- Occupational therapy
- Special education
- Speech therapy
- Social Work
The Day Centre is partially supported by the Hellenic Ministry of Health, mostly covering personnel costs. As a result, private funding, in the form of donations and philanthropic gestures, is an essential prerequisite for securing its long-term existence and quality of services provided to people with autism and their families.