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School for Children with Autism Graduates 21 Preschoolers

By Mary Johnson | August 10, 2012 7:21am

UNION SQUARE — Graduation day at a school near Union Square meant more than just moving from preschool to kindergarten.

For the emotional parents who watched it, it marked huge strides made by their children who just a couple of years ago had behavioral and social skills issues that meant they couldn't function in a typical school setting.

The 21 freshly minted graduates of the Association for Metroarea Autistic Children (AMAC) preschool paraded before family and friends clad in miniature royal blue caps and gowns to the triumphant sound of “Pomp and Circumstance.”

In the fall, they will begin kindergarten at various public and private schools throughout New York City.

The graduation marked a significant step for the students, many of whom came into AMAC’s intensive preschool program with no verbal skills or with extreme behavioral problems, said Frederica Blausten, AMAC’s executive director.

But during the ceremony, the students sat still. They chatted and they sang.

Overall, their behavior, social skills and language capabilities have improved to the point where they no longer need the intensive services available at AMAC, located on West 17th Street between Fifth and Sixth avenues, said Blausten.

They are all moving on to less restrictive programs in the fall.

“Our mission is to give enough services and be intensive enough so that they can move on,” Blausten said, adding that AMAC accepts children who are turned away from other programs throughout the city because of the severity of their condition.

“The major focus is communications skills and social skills so that they can make good choices,” she added. “The parents — oh, they are so thrilled.”

Lydia Tonic was one such parent, who at times grew teary-eyed as her 5-year-old son, Peyton Gooch-Tonic, sat on the stage in his cap and gown.

Tonic, who lives in Astoria, said her son began attending AMAC two years ago.

“Our concerns were his expressive language and his social skills,” she said.

Now, Peyton is reading at a second or third grade level and is doing math at a second grade level, she said. He is also using language more spontaneously and initiating more social interactions.

In the fall, he will transfer to the ASD Nest Program, where he will be part of an integrated class that will include three other high-functioning children on the autism spectrum.

“He’s a great boy,” Tonic said.

“[The graduation ceremony] was very emotional because I know it will be hard for him to say goodbye to his school.

"For the past two years, this school has been Peyton’s home away from home.”