Amanda Friedman, founder and executive director and one of her students, Noemi, smile together at their annual talent show © Photos Courtesy of Atlas Foundation
Atlas Foundation for Autism is a one-of-a-kind nonprofit school and community based program located in NYC, supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other developmental differences.
Starting in 2009 as a therapeutic center, the program evolved into a formal school offering students diagnosed with ASD and other developmental differences an array of approaches and supports to widen their scope of communication, social interactions, personal relationships, and learning opportunities.
Focusing on personal profiles of sensory needs, interests, and passions, as well as highlighted skill sets has proven a fruitful combination, rather than targeting only areas of deficit. The ability of team members—teachers, therapists, family members, and special guests—to always presume ability, competence, and good intention allows for confidence building and celebration.
So many families have experienced their children’s educational and social journeys through highlighted areas of need, focusing on what their kids can’t do in comparison with neurotypical peers. Understanding that students thrive on the opposite approach, Atlas aims to honor neurodiversity and creative spirit!
The program offers community classes within a range of subjects, including creative self expression, health and fitness, recreation, and social activities. The program is open to students ages seven to 21 with unique flexible structures and schedules, allowing for custom strategies and approaches to integrate into academics, social thinking, and regulatory activities. Some of these approaches include but are not limited to DIR/Floortime™, natural ABA, TEACCH, and sensory integration.
All areas of speech and occupational therapy are embedded into mandated services as well as the classroom time. Parents and team members connect and coordinate regularly to ensure that these skills and support are carried over into day-to-day activities and moods. As students get older and ready for more life transitions, vocational skills, activities of daily living, and all aspects of personal relationships are discussed, processed, and practiced in hypothetical play activities and real life opportunities.
Many families have sought information, support, and programs for their children as they mature into adulthood, but are hit what is all too commonly known as “the cliff”. This means they have aged out of the schools and have to navigate therapy, social experiences, and further learning on their own as they look for programs that will accept their kids with high levels of need or nuanced communication and behavioral profiles.
The isolation and loss of beloved team members and routine can be tremendously dysregulating, and the need for outreach is astronomical. Atlas has looked to meet this need by creating a transitional program both in the city and in the Hudson Valley region.
Incorporating the PEERS program for teaching social skills and integration into community through internships, jobs, and shared social experiences has proven powerful and confidence boosting. Atlas provides continuing education that supports the joys of regulating power of movement and creative arts through community classes at their Chelsea based program and immersive family style retreats at different locations in the Hudson Valley.
It takes a village and Atlas is working to create exactly that in an inclusive and compassionate filled model that brings great happiness to the surface!
For more information, visit atlasforautism.org
The Atlas Foundation honors the voice of those who experience challenges in relating and communicating with others. AFA sounds the call to a community yearning for something more, something better in the currently offered educational programs, schools and modes of communication.