Ready & Abled

Suzanne Robitaille looks at disabilities and special needs.

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Fish Therapy for Autistic Youth at Mystic Aquarium

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Kids at aquarium

At the popular Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn., two new programs are helping kids and teens with learning and developmental disorders learn social skills to help them navigate school and beyond.

In Social Species from the Sea to Me, teens encounter a variety of marine animals with varying social behaviors at the aquarium, hear about typical job requirements for high school graduates and learn about the importance of social skills to job market success. They also meet aquarium managers and retail, catering, education, security and maintenance staff while practicing the skills necessary to gain a job in their fields of interest. The program also covers transition planning from high school to a job, interviewing, hygiene, self-promoting skills and completing applications.

Led by Waterford-based Synergy Center Corporation, the programs are designed to give kids “a fun, naturally relaxing, non-school environment, where [they're] exposed to a variety of social settings,” says Synergy Center president Brian Armstrong. The first session of Social Species from the Sea to Me begins on March 17 and costs $480.

Additionally, the Synergy Socials Program is open to children ages 5 to 9 with disabilities such as autism, attention deficit disorder, Rett syndrome, intellectual disabilities or those who may simply have difficulty getting along with other children. Each class begins with yoga or another hands-on sensory experience, such as a touch-and-learn session with some of the aquarium’s invertebrates, which helps the students focus and release anxiety. says Dr. Stephen M. Coan, president and CEO of Sea Research Foundation, a non-profit organization that runs Mystic Aquarium’s educational programs. “These activities are all designed to help build social skills, such as proper greetings, turn taking, following directions and appropriate play interactions,” he adds.

Mystic Aquarium members receive a 10% discount on these programs.

Suzanne Robitaille

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