“I am not different. “ My sixteen-year-old son makes this assertion countless time a day. Well, to be honest, I’m not sure if it’s a statement or a question. And I’m not entirely sure how he would define the word different. Despite my son’s autism diagnosis, speech and language impairment and IQ test scores, he is very intelligent. He is highly aware and very sensitive emotionally. But his language skills are very much delayed. For him, having a conversation is tantamount to climbing a mountain. It takes effort and it is exhausting. He saves this energy for topics he finds highly motivating. The concept of being “Different” seems to top that list.
“In a gentle way, you can shake the world” Mahatma Gandhi
Beginning in July of 2016, Grafton’s Winchester Adult Services department started utilizing a DBHDS Community Engagement grant program to enhance the services we provide to our clients through increased community integration. This state funding has provided operational support with expenses such as transportation, activities and materials. But a large portion of the grant has paid for the services of a Community Engagement Program Manager and Board Certified Behavior Analyst; and this combination has been the secret to our ongoing success!
When I think back over my childhood, its ups and even its downs, I am struck by how much I took for granted. I took for granted that I had people who loved me and wanted me to succeed. I took for granted that I would one day have the ability and wherewithal to go out into the world as an independent adult and blaze my own trail. However, these things that you and I so often see as inevitable and ours to claim are not always so easy to achieve for our students. In fact, what you and I take for granted on a daily basis can often represent a seemingly out of reach goal for individuals with emotional and developmental disabilities.
According to Linda Hogdgon (also known as the “Queen of Visuals”), 56% of communication is visual (gestures, body language, pictures), 37% vocal (tone, rate, intensity) and only 7% is verbal (actual words). Visual schedules then become an important tool to support communication in individuals with autism.
At Grafton we often hear about “sensory stuff”, or students who have “sensory issues”. But what does that really mean? Each one of us uses input we receive from our senses in order to make sense of and navigate the world around us. This simply means that we use our vision, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, as well as our “invisible” senses that tell us where our body is in space, in order to interact with our world by walking, talking, listening, eating, and reading this article on your computer screen. These systems sometimes fall out of sync though, either due to environmental conditions, genetics, or challenges, such as ADHD or autism. Trouble with these systems can cause difficulty with how we relate and perceive the world around us and how we interact with it.
When educating a student with severe to moderate disabilities, the focus often shifts to the behavior of the student, rather than the teaching of basic academic skills, such as reading. Due to the severity or frequency of maladaptive behaviors, much time can be spent implementing programs and interventions aimed at decreasing the maladaptive behaviors to allow the student to be “ready to learn”.
What does feeling empowered mean to you? To me it conjures up concepts like: self-advocacy, communication, knowledge, skill and ability. Self-advocacy is the key to empowerment; however individuals with disabilities oftentimes possess communication deficits that make advocating for oneself immensely challenging. They rely on family members, service providers and case managers to speak on their behalf to improve the quality of their lives. I have always asserted that communication is a core skill that must be taught and reinforced throughout one’s lifetime, especially for one with a disability.
There have been a lot of changes to the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) program in Richmond since I started (this month 2 years ago). In the past several months we had several opportunities to grow our program by diversifying the types of services we provide. In December 2015 we developed a vision for Richmond ABA and it was:
To be recognized as a respected clinical resource of Grafton and the community that maintains a collaborative solution-focused approach to outcomes.
In honor and recognition of Early Intervention Month, I wanted to get a parental perspective on the impact of early intervention services. William is two years old and currently receives services from the Infant and Toddler Connection (ITC) of Shenandoah Valley. Laurel Gillion, William’s mom who is also a special education teacher was kind enough to share her thoughts and impressions.
Each May, Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM) provides an opportunity to raise awareness about communication disorders and role of ASHA (American Speech and Hearing Association) members in providing life-altering treatment.
For 2016, ASHA’s theme is “Communication Takes Care.” A survey completed by ASHA in 2015 of 1000 parents of children 0-8, found that 68% of two-year olds use tablets, 44% of 6 year olds would rather play on a technology device than read a book, and 50% or parents of 8 year olds rely on technology to prevent behavior problems. WHAT? WHY? WOW!!!