State pioneering education leader to lead a discussion about learning disabilities at JFK middle school

Donna Swanson, executive director of the FOCUS Center for Autism and Fresh Start School, is no stranger to miracles and has made it her life’s mission to change and empower the lives of her students and their families living with Autism.

Motivated to increase authentic awareness in the broader community and celebrate her students’ abilities during National Learning Disabilities Month, the Fresh Start School will be hosting an open house on Tuesday, Oct. 17 and a community-wide panel discussion in Southington on Thursday, Oct. 19.

“Too often children with Autism are placed in one of only two narratives: as very high-functioning individuals with social quirks or as extremely impacted and socially difficult to engage. This needs to broaden,” Swanson said in a press release. “Here at FOCUS and the Fresh Start School, we aim to change these misconceptions and prove that every child – no matter where they land on the spectrum – enriches our communities.”

The open house will educate interested parents, potential students, educators of public and private schools, and curious members of surrounding towns to the programs and curriculum catering specifically to children with autism. Most notable is the school’s foundation education model: the clinically-grounded Milieu Therapy. Swanson said in the release that the successful use of Milieu has provided an environment where students are constantly being supported, nourished and reinforce the child’s ability to learn life skills, such as problem solving and coping skills while, at the same time, offer a safe place for these skills to be practiced and integrated into the child’s repertoire of strategies.

Swanson has accepted an invitation to lead an open panel discussion by Next Steps Parent Support Group at the Southington School System, funded by the regional Wheeler Clinic. The panel will be held at John F. Kennedy Middle School on Thursday, Oct. 19.

“We all want to see our children feel loved, valued, and succeed,” Swanson said in the release. “That’s why community engagement in helping our children with different abilities reach their fullest potentials is crucial. Learning how to interact and set someone up for life-long success is not just a parenting concern or education system’s concern, but a public responsibility that can only serve the best interest of the entire community.”

The Fresh Start School Open House is Tuesday, Oct. 17, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at 126 Down Avenue in Canton.

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