Springbrook: Making the difference for people with developmental disabilities, for a lifetime. That is more than a slogan; it is a commitment to support the whole person, including the relationships they have with their respective families. A new program through the Tom Golisano Center for Autism seeks to empower families to be partners in addressing behavioral concerns and finding solutions that increase independence and confidence for their child. The following is just the first of what we hope to be many stories of growth and increased autonomy for students in the Golisano Program and their families.

Michelle and Michael Steinhart have four beautiful children, including Avigdor, now a student in the Golisano Center for Autism at Springbrook. Around the time Avi, as he is known at Springbrook, turned 15, his behavior at home and at school became too challenging for Michelle and Michael to manage. “Avi is extremely close to me, and he is extremely demanding of my time and attention. That means that when Avi was at home I was never able to speak on the phone with anyone, I was never able to speak with a visitor, and it even got to the point where I really couldn’t speak to my other children or to my husband when Avi was in the house because he would become very aggressive.” said Michelle. It was at that point that the Steinhart’s knew they had to seek a full-time residential placement for Avi, not only ensure their son’s safety but to also provide him with the resources necessary for him to lead his best possible life. Having never investigated this type of intervention for their son, Michael and Michelle were apprehensive when they began searching for Avi’s new home.

When asked about the decision to place her son in a residential school setting, Michelle said “Avi is a very, very integral part of our family. It was very difficult for us to envision sending him anywhere. We always envisioned him being at home with us forever. Our school district actually suggested we look at Springbrook, and we are so thankful to have found this organization.”

Avi enrolled with The Tom Golisano Center for Autism at the School at Springbrook in June of 2017. During an initial Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, some of Avi’s more problematic behaviors that occurred at home were discussed. Avi’s school district inquired about Springbrook offering parent training to assist the Steinhart’s in working through these challenging behaviors, and Springbrook enthusiastically agreed to offer behavioral intervention training to their family.

Michelle came to Springbrook every Tuesday for almost an entire year. The training—which was implemented by Springbrook’s Enrique Carrasco, a Board Certified Behavior Analyst in the Golisano Program, with the help of the Residential Supervisor of Avi’s campus residence, Dominique Rockwell—began in a controlled space within the school building. Members of the behavior team would speak to Michelle, and Avi would have to ask her appropriately for attention.

“The initial sessions were the most difficult for Avi because he was used to engaging in problem behavior in order to gain his mother’s attention.” Said Enrique. “We were able to teach him how to use replacement behaviors to ask for Michelle’s attention without engaging in problem behavior.”

As the training advanced and Avi’s ability to share Michelle’s attention increased, the location of the training changed from the school building to Avi’s home at Springbrook. This change of venue was initially accompanied by different challenges, though it was clear to see that improvements were being made at each session. After Avi made additional strides at his Springbrook home, the training relocated one last time to the Steinhart home. As before, the change of scenery did not come without setbacks. However, Avi continued to progress, so much so to that family members were eventually able to visit Michelle with Avi present.

“Through the parent training, the behavior team really worked with myself and Avi to the point where Avi can tolerate my speaking to other people.” Said Michelle. “He is learning how to ask for my attention, and how to wait appropriately for me to give him my attention. This isn’t foolproof. We still have moments where this is difficult for Avi, but it is life changing that I can talk to my other kids or take a phone call while Avi is in the house. The difference really is night and day and we are so grateful to Springbrook for helping us.”

Springbrook continues to examine different interventions and training opportunities for participants who choose our programs and their families. As Golisano Center staff members are currently working with additional families, the future remains bright for additional avenues to support students and offer the best support available.

Springbrook’s Tom Golisano Center for Autism is a leader in education for students with a primary diagnosis of Autism.

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