Hear it From the Experts

Traci Lanner, Director of the Tom Golisano Center for Autism

“At Springbrook, we believe that all problem behavior has a function and communicates a message. We spend a great deal of time trying to determine what students are communicating to us through their challenging behaviors. Sometimes the message is clear such as ‘I want to be left alone’ or ‘I don’t want to do what you’re asking me to do,’ but other times, it can be hard to determine. Students may be looking for attention or support from others or may even engage in problem behavior because it feels good, such as with self-stimulatory or stereotypical behavior. Determining what message is being sent allows us to help the student learn alternate means of communication and hopefully, decrease challenging behaviors.

“One of the most commonly used behavioral interventions at the Golisano Center is called Functional Communication Training, or FCT. FCT helps students learn to communicate their wants and needs in an effective, yet socially acceptable manner. For example, one student I have worked with would pinch others whenever they got too close to him or when he wanted to be left alone. We taught that partially verbal student to say ‘Go away please,’ instead of pinching people to get them out of his space. This allowed him to get the same results without hurting others and also gave us some time to help him learn to tolerate the close presence of others as needed. Another technique we might use is to teach him to use a picture card or an iPad to communicate his needs.”

Amanda Mathewson is the Curriculum Coordinator and Assistant Director for GEMS Education 

She says the most important fact she is always telling parents is to “keep your expectations high! We have students that reach extraordinary goals every day because of hard work, direct instruction, and high expectations. There are enough roadblocks set up along the way - learned helplessness shouldn't be one of them!”

Adam Remillard is a Program Manager at the Tom Golisano Center for Autism's Wright House

He works with individuals with autism daily and his experiences have greatly influenced his outlook on life. After watching students struggle through daily tasks like getting dressed, eating, and communicating, he says he now has a better understanding and respect for the phrase "enjoy the little things.” Adam explains, “All of the experience in this field has helped me to understand what is truly important in life, and that trying to blend into societal norms is not important. All of the team meetings I’ve had with families, service providers, and students have really helped me to see what should be important in someone’s life, instead of trying to fulfill society’s commercial ideas of ‘normal.’”

Isabelle Brundege-Wood is the School Counselor at the Tom Golisano Center for Autism

“Special Education professionals and parents have learned that many children with autism are highly receptive to using the iPad and apps to learn and communicate. As a care provider, I will never forget the day a parent called and told me that they had their first conversation with their non-verbal son through the use of the iPad. Hearing and understanding their child’s first words was a goal of theirs, and also a goal we had been focused on here at Springbrook.  I am extremely proud of this particular student and all the other students for the goals they have achieved and the family expectations they have exceeded!”

Brandie Nissen is a Special Education Teacher at the Tom Golisano Center for Autism

“The advice I would give to parents and professionals that care for students with autism is to get them involved in early intervention as soon as possible. I would also recommend that parents and professionals work on communication and social deficits, as it is important to build these skills with those children with an ASD as early as possible.”

Katlyn Yorks is a Special Education Teacher at the Tom Golisano Center for Autism 

She recounts her experiences working with students with autism over the past few years. "It has been said that 'If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.' As a teacher of six students with autism, I can attest to this statement. It is of the utmost importance to remember that each individual student has specific needs. Students with an ASD display a wide variety of unique qualities, strengths, behaviors, quirks, and challenges. It is critical to keep in mind that just as there is no single effective method to play at all students' strengths in the same exact way, there is no one way to remediate deficits in communication or challenging behaviors. Programming must be made to fit each individual's unique qualities. Remember, if your students (or your own children) are not making progress, it is not because they are unable to learn; rather, it is because we have not yet learned how to teach them in a way that works for them."

Keri Martindale is a Certified Teaching Assistant at the Tom Golisano Center for Autism

"Working at Springbrook has opened my eyes to a whole new world of experiences! By working within the Golisano program, I have had the opportunity to learn and see firsthand what Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) can do to help our students with autism. One student who learned to sit and work at his desk comes to mind. When he came to us, he was completely adverse to any and all work demands. Refusing everything that we put in front of him, he would repeatedly drop to the floor in protest. With time and persistence, we have been able to help this student so that he now sits and focuses on his work at his desk. With this growth and success, he has not only learned many important life skills, but has learned to trust and have fun with us! I am extremely proud of this student and love seeing all of the positive changes within him today!"

James Leech is a Certified Teaching Assistant at Springbrook's Tom Golisano Center

James lives by the Three T's: Time, Training, and Technology. He understands the time it takes to train students, and he stresses the important uses of technology to aid in the process. "Working with students with autism, I have seen first-hand how much technology has helped our students with their communication needs. The same piece of technology may not always work for every student, but there are many options available. Professionals who know the students well can determine which type of device will best suit them—from low-tech items like picture symbols or a switch, to something more high-tech, like an iPad."

Enrique Carrasco, Assistant Behavior Specialist at the Tom Golisano Center For Autism

“During the last 5 years, I have been fortunate to work with many incredible people who happen to have autism. Initially, I operated under the assumption that the appropriate way to work with my students was to handle each matter with 'kid gloves,' which meant much discernment and special treatment. I quickly learned that with proper planning, adventures and community outings are possible. Now, I try to be cognizant of selecting locations that are conducive to achieving a high level of success. By employing support and guidance, we have overcome some incredible hurdles and shocked many naysayers who had notions that my students would not be successful at participating in activities such as rock climbing, kayaking, or going to a water park. Of course, there have been occasions where things did not go according to plan, or when certain behaviors threatened to end an activity early, but these are the situations that have better prepared me to serve the individuals I work with. I have learned the true importance of flexibility and support—in my life and the lives of the students—which will lead to more successful outings in the future.”

Brandon Nichols is the Clinical Coordinator at The Tom Golisano Center for Autism

“Something I have learned about autism since beginning my work at Springbrook is that there are many fad treatments for autism that lack any research to support them. I was very surprised—and shocked in some cases—to see what is being advertised as a 'treatment' for autism. These misleading treatments are often made readily available to parents and providers via the Internet, news media, etc. My experience at Springbrook has taught me to identify and use interventions that have evidence to support their use for students with autism, such as Applied Behavioral Analysis and Functional Communication Training.”

Rachel Burtner is a Speech Pathologist at Springbrook

She explains the difficulty of communicating with, and understanding the needs of our nonverbal students. Many of our students face difficulty with communication, and all individuals with autism have communication barriers to overcome. All too often the ability to communicate is taken for granted, and Rachel’s story highlights the importance of being able to explain what you need. “As a Speech-Language Pathologist, I began using the iPad with one of our non-verbal students and immediately saw how using this device had the potential of helping her meet her communication needs. I started teaching her to request the iPad with a picture exchange and then we moved onto using the iPad to make requests for herself, such as a preferred food, a walk, or elbow scratches (which she loves!). This student can now use the iPad with a 2-step sequence and request using ‘I want,’ and then makes a selection from the next linked page with her preferred items on it. Since we have introduced the iPad as a source of communicating her wants and needs, we have seen a decrease in her problem behaviors surrounding her obsession with food. The iPad has provided her with a means for communication and has made it possible for her to make her requests known to communication partners across settings.”

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