Some of you have requested more information about the new SCERTS-based preschool class that my colleague and I just launched this week. I will be happy to provide that, with ongoing updates. Tonight I’ll give you the basic overview.
We have developed a small, highly individualized class called L.E.E.P. into Communication, and it is designed for a group of children ages 4-6 with social communication and emotional regulation challenges. We meet five mornings a week for three hours a day. My colleague is there all five mornings, I am there three days a week, and we have three Assistant Teachers who are there all five days. In addition, we currently have a psychology intern from Loyola University and may get an intern from Erikson Institute and a speech/language intern from Northwestern University. Our ratio rarely drops below 1:1.
In addition to having a Developmental Therapist and an SLP (me!) running the program, we have hired an excellent Occupational Therapist and a Clinical Psychologist to consult to the program once a month. This means that they will visit, observe, and provide us with any additional suggestions and observations that would benefit the kids. The OT and psychologist are both DIR/Floortime experts, with one of them being an ICDL Faculty member. Beginning next month, we will also have a specialist coming to do music/art therapy with the kids once a week.
This being what I refer to as our SCERTS-based, DIR/Floortime-informed program, it is highly focused on both communication and each child’s social-emotional development. It is also very family-centered. Our goals incorporate the parents’ priorities and areas of greatest concern. We present proposed initial goals to the parents and adjust them if necessary. We spent 6-8 hours completing a full SCERTS Assessment Plan on each of the children, which included a great deal of video review from the clinic and the home (we went to all homes and videotaped the child for an hour in natural routines). The parents are asked to meet with us every 6-7 weeks to review progress and discuss how things are going at school and at home, so we have a rotating schedule which allows us to meet with one family each week throughout the year.
The program is truly cutting edge in terms of its philosophy and guiding principles. It is aligned with the most current and appropriate best practices guidelines out there for kids with Autism Spectrum and Related Disorders, and it shows.
From the minute the kids arrived on Monday morning, they were happy and relaxed. We had the environment set up in a way that enticed each of the children into a regulating activity, whether it was a favorite swing, play doh, or animal puzzles. We have visual aides everywhere you look, and use music and singing to help with transitions throughout the school day. Kids take movement breaks in a ball pit, a resistance tunnel, on their choice of swings (e.g., boat swing, bungee swing, huge lycra) when they need to, and then re-engage with the group. We also spent four days providing intensive training to our staff, which meant that everyone knew the kids’ needs, favorite activities, motivators, and how they expressed dysregulation as individuals (e.g., one child’s toe-walking is another child’s recitation of the alphabet) before they arrived.
Although we worked incredibly hard to prepare an envirnonment and staff perfectly suited to this group of children, we were still shocked at the ease with which the kids moved through these five days. From Floortime play to Morning Circle to TEACCH stations to lunch or art or cooking projects, the kids transitioned well and without any meltdowns. Seriously. No meltdowns. I didn’t see or hear of one all week. We took a lot of videos and photos!
Speaking of videos and photos, I’ve created an online group for the parents and staff of the program as one of our lines of communication (in addition to the daily notes we type up and hand them on their way out). It’s been a great way to make announcements and share information with everyone this week, and tonight I put up a lot of photos for the parents.
I could go on and on (some would argue that I already have!), but these are the basics of what we are offering. I’ll update you through the year about how it’s all going, but I will say that – judging by the progress we’ve observed just from Monday to Friday this week – we are going to see some kids whose development looks very different in June than it does today.
And remember the best part: without tantrums.