This blog is on topics of interest to early career professionals who work with people with disabilities. Blog contributors have diverse perspectives on leadership, professional development, and success in changing systems to better serve people with disabilities and their families. For more information on Early Career Professionals, check out the website: www.aucd.org/ecp

11 May, 2010

Working with Kenny

One of my first jobs was working as a 1:1 therapist for a little boy with autism. Kenny was a gorgeous little boy who had an infectious smile and loved affection. He was in fact, the opposite of what many people expect from children with severe autism. Kenny was not (yet) verbal nor did he did he engage in any of the play and learning activities of his peers. Kenny needed extra support to learn and I was eager to take on the challenge. Kenny’s parents and school district felt that Kenny required an intensive 1:1 Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy program. I was thrilled to be his therapist. Kenny and I started out in the basement of his home an ABA supervisor came in every other week to observe Kenny’s programs and tell me what program Kenny should be working on. Kenny's task for the first few sessions was to learn to say ‘more.’ I was told to give him the cue ‘you want…’ Kenny wasn't getting it. I asked the supervisor if I could teach him the sign for ‘more’ since I had used it before with another child with autism. The supervisor replied that signing was “a different skill” and should not be included in this program. So, I waited until she left, sat down on the floor and taught Kenny how to sign for ‘more.’ He picked up the sign quickly and started using it all of the time. Kenny’s mother was thrilled, I was thrilled, and the supervisor said it was alright to use sign as long as he worked on his “real programs” daily as prescribed. That’s when I decided that there was ‘more’ that I could do for Kenny. Soon after that Kenny and I were playing games, bouncing on the ball, imitating each other with shaving cream on the mirror and pointing to objects outside. Whenever the supervisor came in we sat on the couch and in the chair and ran the ‘real programs.’ That’s when I decided it was time to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst so I could make the decisions about what ‘real programs’ looked like.



As soon as Kenny and I started connecting we started having fun and as soon as we started having fun his skills kept soaring. By the time I left New York a few years later Kenny was regularly verbalizing, matching colors, drawing shapes and even reading some words. I still see Kenny from time to time, he is in middle school and has that same smile as he did at three years of age. I owe a lot to Kenny, he single- handedly changed my career path and helped point me in a direction that I follow to this day. So, my advice to teachers and therapists sitting in literal or figurative basements is to do what you know is right, smile, have fun and do it all with integrity. There is a place in this world for all types of therapies, treatments and programs; I just know what I did with Kenny was right for us and when it’s right the learning and the fun can begin!

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