|Mikkel Brill, left, goes over a drill with teacher Libby Mengel at the Easterseals Academy.|
How are a rectangle and a square similar? How are they different? What about a chair and a table? How are they the same? How are they different? What about a truck and a bus? A pencil and a pen? A tomato and an apple?
Not the easiest questions, particularly if you are 12 years old and have functional difficulties, such as Mikkel Brill, who parsed these distinctions on Monday, leaning forward in concentration, legs churning with effort, guided by teacher Libby Mengel in room 140 of Easterseals Academy, formerly the Easter Seals Therapeutic Day School, on Chicago's Near West Side.
The windows behind them are high, designed to admit natural light but not offer views that might compete for the attention of easily-distracted students. The $24 million building opened in 2008 and has a number of other special features, such as extra insulation.
"Kids with autism get easily stimulated by outside sound," said interim principal Kelly Sansone.
The academy serves 110 students from age 3 to 22 — the day before their 22nd birthday, actually, when public funding cuts out. Students are referred here from public schools; they cannot apply directly.
"We had an adult program that closed last January, due to the state funding crisis," said Sansone.
Easterseals is one of those important organizations flying under the radar of the public, though it really shouldn't, particularly in Chicago, because its headquarters is here — on the 14th floor of the Board of Trade Building. Easterseals celebrated its centennial last month and it is huge: 34,000 employees in 5,000 locations worldwide, the largest non-profit health care organization in the United States. It serves 1.5 million people, focusing on veterans and children with cognitive problems, such as autism.
"We have a lower profile, but it's steady, said Angela F. Williams, an Air Force vet and judge advocate general lawyer who last year became Easterseals' president and CEO. "Easterseals is that hidden diamond, and everybody needs to know who we are and what we're doing. We're the leading service provider for children with autism."
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