Intro: New Preschool Class

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.

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13 responses to “Intro: New Preschool Class

  1. Wow, I can’t imagine all the work that went into this, but it sounds very worthwhile! Good luck with this program.

  2. Jordan, It sounds amazing, and I’ve no doubt that with your attention to detail, your compassion and your desire to make a difference, these kids will blossom. Thanks for the great update–and good luck in the days to come!

  3. I am in awe. This holistic approach is just amazing. How I wish you all were closer as a resource for my C. You are doing great things and I’m so happy you’re seeing the results of your hard work so soon. I also think of your interns and how valuable it is for them to have this opportunity at the beginning of their careers.

  4. Now I really think you should come and give an inservice talk to our preschool! Our Nature-based school has been in existence for five years, and while everyone who teaches there has a strong background in either early childhood or environmental education, there is nobody there with your skills and knowledge, and we could really use your insight. Congratulations on no meltdowns. That’s pretty extraordinary.

  5. Jordan, you continue to amaze and inspire me with your passionate commitment to changing lives for so many. You are certainly changing the lives of the students and their families’ you are also, potentially, changing the way upcoming professionals will work. Your pebble will create large and lasting ripples that extend far beyond what you might even imagine.

    Celebrate! You sure deserve it!

  6. I am jealous- both as a parent and as a teacher. This sounds so exciting and fulfilling. How incredible. Mazel tov!

  7. Dang. That’s all I can say. That and: what an incredible service to these kids and their families. Wow.

  8. Jordan –

    Immediately after reading this, I charged in to the kitchen, teary-eyed and announced to Chris, “We’re moving back to Chicago.”

    This program sounds so wonderful, and definitely a showcase for your creativity and deep expertise and passion. The families in this program are incredibly lucky.

    I look forward to more posts about the program and wish that we could be part of this amazing experiment! For Ben, this classroom would be heaven on earth. Congrats!

  9. This is the exact preschool classroom that we need to create in our area. How cool that you have done it!

  10. Wow! I just can’t imagine how you have the energy and commitment to do all THAT and parent AND manage to blog about it all!!! I’m in awe. Really. We’ve had our share of working with not-so-great professionals so your passion and drive really restore my faith in the professional community. I’m so glad you posted this!!

  11. Holy crap! I’m so impressed. I may just have to get my butt back over to your clinic to observe. Hopefully this child-centered approach will catch on. Parents definitely need some more options that just DTs, which is mostly what I see out here.
    Congrats, Jordan!

  12. This is SO cool!!!!!

  13. Being a parent of one of the kids in this new school – it is AMAZING!!! With a staff that is the absolute best.

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