Mark is an energetic first grader at The Hope Institute Learning Academy in Chicago.  He loves to jump, roll and play in HILA’s sensory gym.

But because Mark has autism, his brain has a hard time understanding how his body should move.

So when Mark plays, he isn’t just playing.  He’s learning critical lessons – recognizing muscle groups and learning to control them.

“Whether Mark is crawling through a tunnel or holding a ball, his muscle action tells his brain to get organized for other movements,” explains Dr. Belinda Anderson, HILA’s occupational therapist (who’s working with Mark in the photo). “His brain says, ‘I’m pushing with my legs. I can do other things with my body now.  I can sit in a chair. I can hold a pencil.’”

Mark’s physical work also helps him be attentive and focus on classwork.  His teacher, Mrs. McKinney, notices a difference in his readiness to learn when he returns from the gym.

“He’s smiling, calm and ready to focus,” she says. “He finishes his assignments independently and asks for more.  He’s become a phenomenal student.”

Because Mark is nonverbal and learns best visually, Mrs. McKinney applies learning methods that help him best utilize his strengths.  For instance, he chooses new projects from the left side of his desk and when he’s finished, he moves them to the right side. When all the work is on the right side, he knows he is done.

Mark also relies on a picture schedule to tell him exactly what will happen each day.  “Like the sensory gym, visualizing his day puts him at ease,” Mrs. McKinney explains. “When he arrives, it’s the first thing he looks at. He’s enthusiastic and ready to learn.”

Your generous support of The Hope Institute makes hopeful futures possible for so many children – just like Mark – every day.  Thank you for opening your heart to the needs of Hope’s children.

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