On the Road With Autism

My journey of discovery. I welcome your comments!

Years Seemed to Fly By


During the 1st 4 years I was so proud to see the growth in students communication, independence, community access,  regulation & group participation.

I saw how Jazzy's confidence expanded as she took on new volunteer sites like San Mateo Credit Union and Savers.  I smiled when Jonathan tried new foods. I loved my meetings with Dominic as he shared his "Good Day" story with me.  I watched Alex's chair move closer and closer into his cirecle of classmates and I observed Toby, Amanda & others take their toilet icon to the bathroom with staff seveal paces behind them.

There were many success in program.

There were also many in infrastructure.

  • We held open houses inviting the community in
  • Updated our Web Site
  • Began a South Bay Autism Lecture Series
  • Began a South Bay Autism Resource Fair
  • I attended all Individual education planning meetings with districts & private families in the beginning
  • We developed a signature fundraiser
  • We develop a quarterly newsletter
  • We encouraged public schools to visit
  • We updated our curriculum & assessments
  • Increased parent observations & training
  • Established faculty ongoing training in all foundational areas
  • Added outside experts for mentoring
  • Established internships with Universities (OT programs, teacher training programs) http://www.dominican.edu/ , http://www.ndnu.edu/
  • Established partnerships with adult programs ( http://www.kainosusa.org/ )
  • Developed a social media presence (Face Book & Linked In)
  • Built a new school site
  • Expanded our student and faculty census

Knowledge of Wings Learning Center's program expanded throughout the special needs community....just like the arrivall of Dorothy in the "Land of OZ"

Today Wings is once again at a crossroad, with a bright future ahead but wondering in which direction to travel next.  A strategic planning process is in process & the board, community & I are imagining all the places we might go.

Future Roads To Journey for me

1) Mentor & coach future leadership

2) Identify new resources & enhance sustainability for Wings

3) Explore the idea of adding adult programing, consulting or  additional sites

So, for now I continue to Journey on with Wings Learning Center & explore my Global work in deveoping countries

 

A Great Model & Its' Okay to Let Go

When I arrived at Wings the faculty & team were feeling a sense of failure as they had been unable to find the most effective strategies to meet the needs of one of their long term students. They felt such a deep commitment to this student & his family that they continued to try interventions with little success, as not to let down anyone. I brought in an outside behavior specialist  to ensure we had tried all possibilities. The student was a young man who truly required a one on one program with all activities of his preference. If this did not occur his anxiety increased & physical ways of rejecting were faced by the team. His sensory sensitivities were also high & so activities within groups were very challenging. The team was tired.

It was my responsibility to help them understand that they had given this placement their greatest effort possible. Eight years plus of working with this student should be honored and valued. I tried to help them understand that Wings isn’t always going to be able to help every child & that is not failure on their part. I tried to explain that sometimes change of placements are the best intervention.

They were tired, other students were feeling the effect of the student & it was getting very hard to provide a program of benefit. It was our responsibility to recognize this, meet with the family & district & be a positive part of his moving on. This was hard on everyone, but needed.

Today this young man has his program based out of his home, with a one on one that can provide daily routines & activities that bring this young man a sense of satisfaction. Today this family is still very involved in Wings Learning Center.

Students come into Wings Learning Center without communication, with limited toileting skills, limited hygiene & independent living skills, rigidity, sensory challenges, poor motor planning & challenges with learning in a group, traveling safely in the community & accepting responsibility for their actions on others.

The strong foundational model that exists at Wings provides a way for all these learning differences to be helped & for students to acquire new skill sets but sometimes as hard as we try we are unable to meet the needs & so we help find other supports.

  • The TEACCH model (http://teacch.com )provides environmental structure & builds independence
  • Visual Schedules (http://www.child-autism-parent-cafe.com/visual-schedules.html )provide students with a place to start & finish &help decrease anxiety & support executive functioning challenge
  • Social Picture Stories http://thegraycenter.org/social-stories provide structure, build comprehension & help build positive alternative behaviors
  • PECS (http://www.pecs.com/ ) a picture communication system provides non-verbal students an opportunity to express themselves through pictures
  • AAC (Augmentative & Assistive Communication ) (http://www.asha.org/public/speech/disorders/AAC/ ) provides a variety of devices and software to students with a way to communicate their needs, wants, feelings and to respond to questions
  • Occupational Therapy (http://www.aota.org/consumers.aspx ) provides interventions to address fine motor, gross motor, motor planning, attention, focus, sensory processing & regulation, balance, strength and endurance so that students can better access their education and life
  • Speech Therapy (http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/language_speech/ ) provides interventions to address receptive language, expressive language, pragmatics and voice challenges
  • The SCERTS (http://www.scerts.com/ ) model helps faculty plan effective goals in social communication & emotional regulation as well as identify effective supports for learning
  • Meaningful & purposeful activities are developed to engage students, increase generalization & help prepare the student to live with purpose
  • Interest-based activities are used to inspire and engage participation & learning and to value & build upon talents, interests and gifts which may lead to long term job opportunities, social & leisure activities & recreational opportunities

 A strong foundation exits at Wings Learning center & it was now time for the special education Community to know it.

Back on the School Path

Back on the School Path…. Wings Learning Center

My plans were to come in as the interim director, help the board build a highly respected program for students, families & staff; one the special needs community would honor & value. There were first year challenges: building trusting relationships with the faculty & families, taking care of state department of education requirements & building a sustainable budget.

First Year Lessons

  • Obtain input from ALL staff & faculty on strengths, challenges & needs
  • Meet with ALL the families & listen to concerns & expectations
  • Offer to meet with Special Education Local Plan Area & County & local districts to obtain feedback (good, bad or ugly)
  • Establish an open door policy with all stakeholders& be honest, transparent but establish boundaries
  • No matter how hard take care of all the RED FLAGS as professionally as you can
  • Observe every part of the program
  • Review ALL systems
  • Decisions will not be like by all
  • Some solutions will need to wait
  • Provide faculty & staff with knowledge they need to understand solutions proposed
  • Help faculty and staff develop professional boundaries
  • Be okay with asking too many questions (staff told me I asked too many), better solutions with greater knowledge
  • Be okay with my first faculty& staff evaluation not having high numbers (change is hard, new communication styles can be challenging)

A Drive Worthwhile

It was a long drive to Wings Learning Center, over the Golden Gate Bridge, down 280, then 92 & then 101 to the Whipple exit, but it was so, so worth it. Every teacher, every therapist & every instructional assistant was so committed to making a difference in the lives of the students with ASD attending the school. The Board of Directors were so passionate about making Wings the most effective program for children and families. I had my goals set for me the first year: resolve any & all system challenges, rebuild a sense of security for staff & families and find ways to help Wings become a sustainable organization. Okay…

I remember that the day I started was the same week Toby started. He could clear off a table full of objects & papers faster than anyone I knew. He had no communication system & dropped to the grown every few steps on his walk in the community so the staff figured a way to take him for walks with in a red wagon to begin with. This also stopped the darting off into the streets. He was unable to join group learning & required constant one on one to keep engaged.

With patience from the team, support from his family & the Wings Model, Toby not only grew taller, but acquired communication through pictures & then assistive technology. He not only learned to be in the community without being pulled in a wagon, but to access the library, grocery store & other community businesses with support. He also participates in group activities.

What I admired most about the faculty was their ability to remain calm, quiet & give the student time to process a direction before ever stepping in too fast with prompting. I had observed lots of educational programs where the teachers were constantly giving directions & making demands. If the student didn’t comply immediately they repeated & repeated. Not the Wings team. They waited, said nothing again. It was so satisfying. The Wings team were also experts at designing visual schedules, structuring tasks for success & designing meaningful lessons for the students to engage in. They were magical at writing social stories to help students prepare for new activities, learn social skills & learn new behaviors.

The therapists & the teachers worked collaboratively & the instructional assistants were treated as equal team players. I liked that a whole lot.

Yes it was well worth the 53 miles one way door to door from Marin County to San Mateo County.

Story 1

Let me tell you about one of the many memorable Oak Hill days. I had taken some time to go to In & Out Burger close by the school. I purchased two t-shirts & those very attractive hats the employee’s ware. I inspired my executive assistant to join me in, In & Out Burger day at Oak Hill. There were two large windows in my office that opened to the recess area. Perfect. We labeled the 1st one, Order Here & the 2nd one ,Pick Up Order Here.

We then ordered & picked up chocolate and vanilla milk shakes, fries & plan burgers for everyone at the school from In & Out.

I sent a memo to all teachers telling them I wanted to see them all & their students at the recess area. They had no idea what I wanted or what was about to happen.

They arrived & when they scanned the windows big grins & smiles appeared on their faces. The students were in heaven. They placed their orders & picked up their lunch.

I loved it.

Story 2

When I first arrived at Oak Hill School the faculty & staff were still feeling a lack of community due to some leadership challenges prior to my arrival.

The first process I instituted was a morning check in. We took 15 many 20 minutes to connect. I had a theme for each day (Music Monday, Tickles Tuesday, Wacky Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday & Film Friday). Staff shared their favorite music, jokes, crazy adventures, favorite drinks and films. This small activity helped begin to bring them together.

At the same meeting I would ask each of them to name one success they had the day before. I wanted to institute a half-full feeling at work rather than a half empty feeling. Things began to shift

TGIF meet ups at local restaurants, birthday celebrations and staff appreciation activities added to community building. Our yearly retreat in Napa Valley always brought the community together as well.

Story 3

Oak Hill School employed this amazing creative arts therapist. She appeared to have something just right for each & every student, hidden in her closet.

One day she asked if I would come up & be the audience for one of the students. I happily agreed. I watched Lizzy lower the art tables’ legs. It was now flat on the floor. She then pulled these frozen OJ can lids from that closet!!! And attached them to Reed’s shoe bottoms. It appeared that Reed wanted to tap dance to a favorite song of his

So Lizzy played the song on the piano & facilitated Reed stepping up on the table and tapping away.

Every Halloween the entire student body & staff dressed up in costumes & Lizzy put on an assembly to build trick or treat skills. She used puppets, musical instruments & a variety of songs to sing which had directions to follow.

She then played the old built in organ that lived in our hallway & filled the school with spooky music.

Finally the students paraded around the school grounds & knocked on administrators doors. “Knock, Knock, whose there, Trick or Treat”

At Thanksgiving time a thankful tree suddenly appeared in our hallway & it was Lizzy who worked with our students to create thankful leaves to hang on bear limbs until Thanksgiving arrived when each leaf was read, by our students at our Thanksgiving feast where students learned appropriate social skills for this type of holiday.

 

There are many stories I could tell you about as I remember the images on the Autism Quilt, but it is time to move forward & tell you how I headed back home after serving as the Director of the School for students with emotional challenges

Three years into my work at the school for emotionally challenged in Sacramento, I received a call came from a head hunter. Four families of children on the spectrum were looking for a Director to help them develop, implement & expand their current private center located in Marin County.

I was ready to start my journey back home to Autism. I had overcome my doubts of not being knowledgeable enough, not taking enough risks & I was ready to deal with the heart-break of leaving all I had created in Sacramento (family, friends & career)

The needs of these 4 families & their mission to establish the best school in the North Bay Area & my father’s encouragement gave me the courage to Start All Over.

I spent nearly 6 years as the Director of Oak Hill School http://www.theoakhillschool.org/ located in Marin City in Marin County. I was involved in getting this school certified as a non-public school with the California Department of Education http://www.cde.ca.gov/sp/se/ds/npsacrtapp.asp & developing relationships with local school districts, the SELPA (Special Education Local Planning Agency) hiring, training, & supporting the team as well as heading all program expansion & being the liaison with the parents, state & districts were some of my roles.

I also unplugged toilets with the Plunger when needed!!!! My students actually liked observing that job responsibility most.

We grew from 11 students to 25, from two classrooms to four and went from 90% private placements to 90% public school placements in the years I directed

Wisdoms I Learned at Oak Hill

  • Therapists & Teachers are equal in importance & must work together to address the complex learning challenges of ASD
  • Faculty & staff need to connect personally to each other in order to support each other
  • It is the responsibility of the Head of School to help everyone see the positives of each day
  • It is important to find ways to support the strengths & challenges of your team & not to expect everyone to perform in the same manner as you
  • It is important to prepare your team to present professionally at all Individual Education Meetings & to make sure parents & the school team are on the same page
  • It is important to be honest with families about their student’s challenges
  • It is important, as a leader, to be able to say “NO” professional to faculty and families
  • Never compromise your values & beliefs for financial support
  • Never take NO without trying everything possible to reach an important goal
  • Say Thank You every way possible
  • Know when it is time to move on & leave to make sure everything is structured & organized for the program to continue to succeed for the students

 

 

Daddy’s Princess

Lisa had thick, soft red hair and this amazing smile. When she was excited should shake her head from side to side, mouth wide open, making a sound like “yeiou, yeiou, arms stretched out in front of her, hands rotating left & right like she was turning the knobs of a door handle.

Lisa sucked her thumb to soothe herself & isolated herself when upset. She took her socks off frequently & twirled them around in front of her eyes. This twirling helped her regulate. I was in the kitchen preparing lunch & Lisa ran from the back of the house, crying and upset. My attempts to offer her comfort resulted in her putting her hand up and turning her back on me. She paced back and forth head down, twirling her sock. Her crying lessened. I watched her reflection in the window as she calmed herself down & was then ready to return to her daily routine, the sock now quiet by her side.

I remember how Lisa’s Dad spoke about her. I loved watching the way he adored this little red headed child with autism who could not say Daddy or let him know how safe he made her feel. You could see it in his eyes as he sat still and waited for her to just sit next to him. I loved the way Ken accepted his daughter for who she was and always maintained a sense of hope.

Statistics told us that nearly 40 per cent of children with ASD develop seizures during adolescents. Lisa was about 13 when she had her first seizure. Doctors asked us to maintain a log and keep a close eye on her. Within 6 months Lisa started to have seizures on a regular basis and doctors places her on medication. We kept a close eye on her especially in the evenings when her seizures happened most frequently. Bed checks were every 15 minutes at the Kaplan Foundation School.

Lisa responded well to structure, visual supports & the use of task analysis when learning her skills of daily living. In the beginning she required physical prompts, which faded to tactile, visual and then verbal. She learned best one on one but learned to work with another student and wait her turn. Toilet training was implemented during the first 6 months using Toileting Training in One Day by Azrin & Fox (without the doll). Lisa reached her goal one year later.

During the school day Lisa used a visual picture schedule and completed her independent work at TEACCH stations. During after school hours and weekends, Lisa and her house buddies engaged in every activity their typical peers engaged in (playing at parks, bowling, going to museums, talking walks, attending festivals, making trips to the library, going to the mall, dining out, going to the zoo, having picnics at the lake, swimming and roller skating.)

While the Kaplan Foundation served children until age 22, an adult program placement came available on her 18th birthday and her family needed to take advantage of the opening. Fearing that there would be no opening at age 22, Lisa was moved from the Kaplan Foundation. She had been at the Kaplan Foundation since she was 6. She had been one of the original 6. I would miss her smile, her red hair her quirky sounds and her innocence.

One of the saddest days was when I heard from her dad that Lisa had passed away. It was the first time I would attend a funeral for one of my students. It appears that Lisa’s seizure disorder was not carefully supervised at her adult program. She experienced status epileptic one evening & her staff did not notice. I still can see her beautiful face and amazing smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A day of Deep Pressure and Crashing into Fences

Most of our kiddos aren’t excited about exercise but it is one of the most effective regulatory strategies.

Kyle loved the water. He loved swimming under the water where his body could be totally surrounded by deep pressure of the water. His mom use to put a life jacket on him, tie a 100 foot rope to the back of the jacket and let him swim for hours in the lake whenever they went camping.

He also loved rollerblading but would run directly into the wooden fence to feel the deep pressure of the wood hitting against his skates. Once he learned to ride a bike he also ran the bike into the fence to feel the jolt from the impact. He would let us know by his huge smile and laugh each time he crashed.

Today, through the research of licensed Occupational Therapist, Jane Ayers we understand how proprioceptive activities like jumping, pushing, pulling, climbing. Swimming and heavy lifting help children with Autism Spectrum Disorders regulate themselves and reduce anxiety. Sensory integration intervention and sensory processing intervention play a key role in the therapeutic planning for children with ASD.

Kyle often slept better, had less body rotation and hand rotation when he had a day filled with swimming, rollerblading and biking.

                           Kyle, blonde hair, blue eyes, always on his toes, finger flicking & open mouth moaning when he was over excited. Kyle, in diapers, never slept in his own bed, overheated easily, did not like certain textures of foods in his mouth, finger fed himself & loved to watch patterns in the water that he created by flicking his hands, fingers or feet. Kyle with no play skills, unless you consider dropping balls or other objects into a container, over and over again, an appropriate play activity. Kyle, who swam like a dolphin underwater, was the youngest child of the six children who first experienced the Kaplan Foundation way of life.

On his 8 inch quilt square, with its soft yellow fleece background was his name & spelled out in orange glue, thank you for caring about me. All this under his two PJ feet bottoms his mom had glued into the center of the square. The PJ feet bottoms that rubbed against the hardwood floors each night Kyle woke up unable to sleep wandering into the family room where I slept for the first 3 months of the program.

It was imperative for me to train each new staff person with me on the shift they would work so I could be sure these children would receive the best care and programing. I was totally responsible for the well fair of these children (physically, mentally, and emotionally).

Kyle’s feet, pitter patterning along the floors, were occasionally joined by his comrades in crime, Leslie a& Lisa both 6 years old, nonverbal & often dressed in the same soft, zip up PJ’’s with feet, reminding me of why these children had been placed in my care.

How many sleepless nights could their moms and dads take before their families would fall apart due to their inability to work, take care of siblings or maintain a healthy relationship with their partners? How long could they go without clarity of thought? How long could they continue to be present in their lives while they were physically exhausted?

So it was up to me to design a program that would help these PJ bottoms stay in bed asleep.

Kyle’s program as well as Lisa & Leslie’s involved integrating many of the following components to address their overall better health, sleepless nights, smearing of feces, bathroom accidents, anxiety, self-stemming & generalization of newly acquired skills.

(Diet, Toileting, Routine, Physical Exercise, Communication, Parent Training, Home Training)

The Autism School; No Judgement, Be Honest, Do Not Destroy Hope

No Judgement, Never Destroy Hope, Be Honest

These were my mantras each time I found myself on the islands of Bali & Java

Yuni had scheduled a visit to the Autism School in Denpasar on my third trip to Bali. The school Director had invited me to meet her team & hold some discussions on autism with them. School was apparently not in session that day, so the children were in their villages. Yuni, the school director of YPK, her Supervisor, the Director of YPK, Sharon, the Occupational Therapist at YPK and my niece, who was traveling with me in her capacity as a regular education teacher with her Masters’ Degree in Special Education were held up in a bit of traffic that morning & arrived a few minutes after our expected time.

We were all surprised at the reception that had been planned. A line composed of school director, her team and several dignitaries from the Village were waiting to greet us. I was then told that the children had been brought on site for the day for me to see, as well as approximately 60 parents & village members to ask me questions.

I asked to take a quick tour of the school to familiarize myself with their environment before being put on stage for quesstioning. Classrooms, small therapy rooms & a few large assembly & office spaces supported the program. All the students that day were in one room, waiting.

I was a bit concerned about the fact that 30 plus children with Autism would be in ONE! Room waiting, so I advised my group to wait outside the door while I ventured in. I scanned the room very quickly & noticed a variety of children, some with Downs, a few with physical challenges & others surely with some cognitive issues, sensory issues & from my own experience Autism.

A few of the children were experiencing some anxieties & engaging in some behaviors that I felt were due to the limited space they were in, the unstructured time they were experiencing & the change in their expectations for the day. I suggested to my host that we move on & that the children continue in some type of regular structure they had expected. (BE Honest)

I then was asked to observe a speech therapy session with a 17 year old non-verbal student with Autism. The therapist appeared to be using an oral motor approach to teach him to speak. I did not see any type of alternative system (pictures, sign, or technology) within the session   (NO Judgement). The young man was cooperative & really trying to please the therapist. It was apparent to me, a speech & language therapist by training, that this student could benefit from some alternative communication systems to help him express his needs, wants & refusals.

I was then led to one of the larger assembly rooms & asked to speak from a stage. I requested that I be allowed to set a discussion with less formal spacing & to sit more closely to the families & professionals. I spent the next hour or so with legs hung over the stage rim much more connected.

“What medication cures Autism?” was my first question from a father whose 8 year old son had autism (Be honest, Don’t destroy hope). “A great deal of research is being done right now, exploring the potential of medication to help our children, but at this moment there is no medication that has been found to cure. We have some types of medication that can lessen some of the anxieties, help with sleep & decrease aggressive behaviors,” that was my answer.

“Is it okay for me to throw my son in water when he has a tantrum?” was another question asked by a struggling mom with a son with autism. (Be honest, Do not judge)   My first response to this mom, who had stood up in front of her village with such courage, was to ask her a series of questions so I could help her find another solution before resorting to throwing her son into some type of water. I wanted to see why the tantrum occurred & provide other strategies before the meltdown could occur. Then I asked if her son enjoyed the water & explained that some children are calmed by the deep pressure of water while others are fearful & could see the water as a punishment. WOW!

I was asked to describe Autism & also to comment on whether I thought children with Downs Syndrome could be educated in the same school. (Be Honest, Do not Give Up Hope, Do Not Judge)

I provided characteristics but provided ways to help as I described Autism. I talk about the similarities between Autism and Downs but also described the differences in supports needed.

Once the Villagers left & the children, we spent another period of time with the teachers talking about visual strategies & the difference between just pointing to a picture & using it to truly communicate.

It was an amazing experience for me, learning to listen, valuing & providing hopeful feedback.

Reflecting back on the years at the Kaplan Foundation, it truly took a great deal of Courage, Heart & Brains & of course a little touch of Magic to design, build, implement & direct a school for 20 years.

 Kaplan Foundation Quilt

I had taken the quilt which hung behind my desk at the Kaplan Foundation, carefully down, folded it several times until it made a one foot by 2 foot rectangle, placed it neatly in the bottom of one of the many boxes I was using to pack up the past 20 years of my life devoted to creating, developing and implementing a residential school for children with autism.

By my side was my soon to be best friend, a mom of one of the very first student placed at the Kaplan Foundation in March of 1979. Her son’s name was of the very first to appear on that quilt. It was this mom who facilitated the very creation of the quilt honoring my 20 year commitment to finding solutions & help for children with autism. It was this mom who took the time & patience to connect each square together so that in years to come I might be reminded of the children & families I had helped along the way.

There were 52, 8 inch squares each representing one of the children who had touched my life.

That quilt was buried with my hurt & stored in those boxes first in my house in Granite Bay, then my second house in Granite Bay, then in the attic in the San Anselmo home & finally in the linen closet in my home in Terra Linda before it was taken out on August 15th 2009, ten years later. I unfolded the quilt, lay it on the floor of my office, carefully reading each square & trying to imagine once again the face, the voice, & the unusual behaviors of that student who had moved my life in its apparently predetermined direction.

Seeing those 52 squares brought me right back to the afternoon I had to walk away from everything I had built at the Kaplan Foundation. I remember my attorney handing me a check from the settlement of the property for the foundation & his words, “You should feel good about this amount”. I thought to myself, you have no idea what any of this means to me. With tears streaming down my face, I thought, there is no amount of money that could ever replace the past 20 years of my life imaging, creating, building & growing a school for children & their families affected by autism.

I had lost my school as an outcome of a sad divorce. One person’s anger & insecurity had been able to take something very precious away from me.

But once again looking at the 52 squares, I realized he never really took any of the important things away. He never took away my passion. He never took away my knowledge. He could never take away my experiences & memories & successes lived at the Kaplan Foundation.

The Kaplan Families

  • It was important that parents had the capacity to participate in their son or daughter’s education. For some parents, I found, placing in a residential site meant detachment but placement at the KAPLAN FOUNDATION would always be different
  • Residential parents were required to remain parents, learning how to support, guide their child’s program
  • Participation at Special Olympics as well as monthly connections to their son or daughter through calls, postcards, book by mail, music in the mail were expected
  • Opening their own homes to in home training was expected
  • Day parents were expected to observe, train on site and be trained in their homes as well as attend all family events
  • Siblings & grandparents were welcomed to all events
  • It was important to help our students stay connected to their families as well by sending cards, letters, drawings home monthly and on holidays and for celebrations
  • A parent handbook was developed & a quarterly newsletter sent out so that families could understand program components & stay up to date on activities in their child’s life
  • Parents were required to observe the program on an ongoing basis & be trained in all interventions and strategies
  • Parents were expected to have their son or daughter home at least once a month
  • Parents were expected to welcome our staff into their homes so skills generalized
  • Parents were encouraged to provide at least a positive basic nutritional program when their son or daughter came home (At Kaplan we removed all additives, preservatives, artificial sweeteners & provided fresh organic vegetables, fruits, meats & fish). This was unheard back then
  • We also used Dr. Bernard Rimland’s formula (B6/Magnesium)

Kaplan Curriculums that worked

The Kaplan Foundation Story

My staff were young & inexperienced but open & passionate. For the first 3 months I worked all shifts (7 to 3, 3 to 11 & 11 to 7) ensuring the safety of my students & the positive development of my staff.

Toilet training, sleeping through the night, brushing teeth, bathing, dressing, using utensils to eat, exercising, community access, communication & music were addressed during the first 3 to 6 months.

One year later we purchased a 5 acre site with a large ranch-style home, barn, stables & a swimming pool in Orangevale ,California & moved back to Sacramento to be closer to the University, a larger employee base & to expand the program. The new site could support 8 students and we went to work immediately converting the barn & staples to fully operational classrooms & added day students from the local public school systems.

We hired additional team members (Teachers, Speech Therapist, & Art Therapist, Swim Instructor, office support & an amazing nutritionist / Bio Medical Practitioner). A step by step training program was developed to prepare the team to work collaboratively together. The school grew to 4 homes & a main school site.

Children were taught to complete a wide variety of self-help & hygiene tasks, meal preparation, independent living tasks, such as laundry, sweeping making their beds, making a salad, smoothies, sandwich, loading a dishwasher, etc. They were also taken into the community & taught how to access parks, museums, movies, restaurants, fairs, sport events, bowling alleys & much more on a regular basis. Their school day consisted of exercising (skating, running, swimming, basketball & trampoline) as well as learning social skills, communication skills and academic skills.

The families were required to visit & learn how to work with their son or daughter to prepare them for the times their children came for home visits. In the early years the regional center allowed me to send staff home with families to help generalize skills into their own homes. Families were required to call weekly, send some sort of written communication to their son or daughter in the mail and have their son or daughter home for special holidays (Xmas, Thanksgiving etc.)

Each year the Kaplan Foundation hosted all the families from all over the state & out of state for a family picnic right after participating in Special Olympic Games at Sacramento State University.

I directed the Kaplan Foundation for 20 years.

So many lessons, I learned in hiring the right team, supporting families, training & supporting the team & families, developing relationships with districts, state agencies, universities & similar schools, integrating into communities, keeping on top of research & strategies & finding balance between student needs, parent expectations and available resources.