WEST WINDSOR: Catholic education provided to student with autism

A township-based nonprofit has raised enough money to sponsor the education of a student on the autism spectrum at a Catholic school.

By Jennifer Kohlhepp, Staff Writer
   WEST WINDSOR — A township-based nonprofit has raised enough money to sponsor the education of a student on the autism spectrum at a Catholic school.Founded in 2011, the Healing Hands of Christ Foundation’s mission is to raise funds to provide Catholic schools with full-time aides to assist autism-spectrum students and their teachers in a traditional Catholic classroom setting. The foundation’s first student will be sponsored at the Dioceses of Trenton’s Rose of Lima School in Freehold.
   ”We are thrilled to have the opportunity to support our first student in a Catholic school,” resident Barbara Conforti, founder and secretary of Healing Hands of Christ Foundation, said. “Saint Rose of Lima School and the Dioceses of Trenton have been incredible partners who understand the importance of providing a values-based Catholic education to all children including those with autism spectrum disorder.”
   As a Catholic and mother to a son with autism, Ms. Conforti, along with her husband, Nick Conforti, saw an opportunity to help make Catholic education an option for children on the spectrum.
   ”Our objective is to provide individual support, maximize the intellectual, physical and spiritual potential of each child, while integrating them with traditional peers,” said Mr. Conforti, cofounder and president of Healing Hands of Christ Foundation.
   One out of every 94 children in New Jersey is diagnosed with autism, with the rate almost 50 percent higher than the national average. Despite such widespread autism diagnoses, Catholic schools have been unable to provide the individual support that many spectrum-disorder students need on a day-to-day basis, according to Ms. Conforti.
   The organization pays for an aide to be with a student full-time in a traditional classroom during his/her grammar school experience, which typically means grades K-8. The cost for each aide is $25,000 per year.
   Dr. Jim Ball trains the aide and the general education teacher and also works with school staff to help them understand where the child is coming from and how he/she is developing at school, according to Ms. Conforti.
   Sister Patricia Doyle, principal at St. Rose of Lima School, said, “This foundation has provided a student in our parish the opportunity to continue his education in our school. Our student is able to be fully integrated in a classroom with his peers and receive individual attention as needed. We are blessed to be partnering with them on this crucial mission to make Catholic education a reality for many more of God’s children.”
   ”Unfortunately our son is not able to participate because he is not ready to be mainstreamed (in a traditional classroom),” Ms. Conforti said. “That’s ok. Seeing this little boy and the joy his family has to have him have a Catholic education warms our hearts.”
   For more information, contact Barbara Conforti at 609-443-4249 or at barb@healinghandsofchrist.org.