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School keeps an open mind for the autistic

Educators said her son would stay stuck in kindergarten, but Sue Co knew the boy could learn.

Educators said her son would stay stuck in kindergarten, but Sue Co knew the boy could learn.

At first, her attempts to teach him were hit and miss, she says. She tried forcing him to read — to look at the page and spell out the letters c-a-r — but he kept turning his head away.

Eventually, she understood. His strength was auditory, not visual. When she spelled the letters aloud and sounded the words, he listened and made progress.

“Most children, not just autistic ones, have their own learning style,” Co says. “To be an effective teacher, you have to know the style and use that knowledge to make up for their weaknesses.”

Co is a former information technology consultant who out of compassion and desperation opened a literacy school for autistic children and young adults.

To her engineering degree she added a bachelor of education and persuaded her sister to move from London, England, to run the business end.

Together, they landed space in a new Richmond Hill mall for more than 20 pupils. They painted it in muted colours to soothe hyper-visual children and installed LED lighting to calm hyper-auditory ones bothered by the buzz of fluorescent tubes.

Finally, early last year, they inaugurated OpenMind Alliance Inc., with a focus on literacy as a powerful, lifelong communications tool for people with autism.

“Once they learn to read, they can read to learn,” Co says of her students.

 
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