Content Contributed by: Martha Aki, Project TYKE – Katy ISD
My time spent working in Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) has shown me just how important providing these services to families are. With the IBCCES Advanced Certified Autism Specialist (ACAS) program, my staff has been able to transform how we work with children with special needs and increase the impact we have.
Making a Difference in Katy, Texas
In the Katy Independent School District, located in Texas, there are approximately 83,000 students total. Of these students, 10,000 are special education students, making up a large population of our student body.
Our school district is the only one in Texas that offers a continuum of services from birth to 21. In Texas alone there were 382,050 births and 7,641 of these were children born with autism. In fact, Texas is the second largest and fastest growing child population in the United States and has the second largest child ASD population in the US. It has been amazing to see how much ECI impacts the lives of children and their families.
What is Early Childhood Intervention (ECI)?
ECI is a statewide program developed for families who have children, birth to three, with disabilities and developmental delays. Through our ECI program we support these families in order to help their children experience their full potential through developmental services. Some of the services we link families to include speech therapy, physical therapy, special instruction, nutrition, occupational therapy, nursing services, psychological services and services for children with visual or auditory impairment. We also offer services for children who need assisted technology for daily living, such as basic sign language, or computerized choice-making boards.
Goals of Early Childhood Intervention
Our team works with each family on an individual basis in order to customize a plan that will fit their child’s needs best, but some common objectives of ECI include:
- Implementation of the five evidence-based practices.
- Implementing a process of selecting skills to teach.
- Antecedent-based interventions.
- Understanding the importance and use of motivation.
- Prompting, reinforcement, and the three-term contingency.
- The basic tools for teaching communication.
- The basic tools for teaching social skills.
The Coaching Model
When providing these services we use a coaching model to ensure that families are fully involved in their child’s development. We bring our expertise to wherever the child is whether that be their home, preschool, daycare, grandma’s house. We call this working in natural environments. While our staff delivers their knowledge and practices, such as developmental therapy and speech language pathology, it is up to the family to make the difference.
ACAS Certification Enhances Our ECI Model
The ACAS certification has been incredibly helpful in developing a successful coaching model because it has given our staff the confidence, support, and resources they need to feel capable of working with children and families who are impacted by autism and other special needs. We love that our staff can continue to go back and look at all the educational pieces included in the certification program, such as webinars, trainings, and all the resources IBCCES offers.
While the purpose of ECI is not to diagnose children, we do begin the diagnosis journey.
ACAS Improves Outcomes for ECI Groups
One of the areas of our program where we have seen the positive impact of the ACAS certification has been within our ECI groups. Some of the benefits of ACAS within our groups include that it models strategies that encourage compliance and participation in children with developmental disabilities while also teaching parents and caregivers how to identify the antecedents of their child’s behaviors as they occur.
The ACAS certification also makes it simple for our team to share with parents and caregivers and help them understand the “ABC’s of behavior and coaching” so they can recognize the behaviors and pair it with an appropriate result. Another benefit is that it coaches parents and caregivers on how to identify and utilize positive reinforcement to encourage appropriate behaviors or replacement behaviors. The certification also shows parents and caregivers how to track data regarding behaviors and how to find patterns or triggers.
Choosing to become certified in autism has been essential to our success and has helped us grow and maintain our program despite cuts in funding. Our ECI groups have grown from 2 or 3 groups each week to 25 every week. These groups are provided by speech therapists, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and early intervention specialists.
Why ECI is So Important
Providing Families With Support
One of the biggest roles that ECI programs play is that they offer support to families that otherwise have nowhere to turn. Raising a child with developmental disabilities can be incredibly challenging and isolating when those around you do not understand what you are experiencing. It can be easy for parents, caretakers, and children to feel misunderstood and alone.
Fortunately, ECI offers evaluations and assessments at either no cost or low cost to families. We also never deny families of services if they are not able to pay. It is really our goal to work with families as a team in order to create a plan that will work for their needs.
Our program supports families when they have a challenge. Families need support not only in their child’s development, but in the emotional issues that they face. They also need support with community resources, since placing their children in a daycare or preschool setting can be challenging. Our job is to help them access anything and everything to assist them in their child’s development.
Activities that we may see as simple, including grocery shopping, getting a haircut, a trip to Six Flags, or going to church, can be very difficult for families who don’t have support. Our interventionists will go with the family to these settings and help them put together a plan and help them develop systems within their home, such as choice boards and picture calendars, to help the child feel prepared and in control.
Helping Children to Make Choices
When children with special needs and developmental disabilities feel in control they are able to reveal their hidden abilities and reach their potential. Our program teaches parents how to help their children make choices and ultimately have more control.
For example, we have created routined, patterned approaches for parents to work with their children and prepare them for the school setting. Both the parents and children get to experience different stations and processes that get them familiar with being in a classroom. We typically start these groups when the children are about 30 months old so that by the time they turn three and move into the school system they’re aware of what the classroom setting looks like and which routines to expect. This makes the transition for both the family and the child much easier.
ECI also eliminates district special education services for many children, which can be costly. Due to the efficiency of our program, we save our district around two million dollars every year. This has shown me that not only is ECI effective and impactful for families, but it is also a cost-effective strategy for school districts to implement.
Family Success Stories Prove Effectiveness
Having worked with IBCCES for more than two and a half years now, I can truly see the difference in my staff’s abilities and the overall success of our program. The feedback we receive and results we see from families within our district reinforces this.
Katie, mother of Kristen who attended two group therapies through our ECI program in 2014, was happy to share her experience. She said, “When Kristen started in group she didn’t speak at all, her comprehension seemed nonexistent, she wouldn’t sit still for even thirty seconds, had a horrible time with transitions, had no social skills, and cried frequently.”
Katie said that after just nine months of group therapy her daughter was able to stay seated in her seat, follow the teacher’s directions, wait her turn, participate verbally and physically during songs, finger play, literacy, and vocabulary activities.
Not only did the program help improve Kristen’s development, but it provided Katie with a much-needed support system.
“As a parent, it was so nice to be in a setting with other parents who ‘got it’. Having a special needs child can make you feel very alone and being reminded that you aren’t is such a morale booster.”
Looking Forward – Who Can Benefit From Autism Certification
The story that Katie shares is one of many and reminds us that ECI can completely transform a child’s life, along with their family’s. Our program has been successful due to the expertise, dedication, and the specialized knowledge of our teams and the ACAS certification has allowed us to enhance this expertise and deliver truly cutting-edge services to our community.
I am grateful for the partnership we formed with IBCCES, proud to be a new member of the IBCCES advisory board, and look forward to the innovative change we can continue to affect within early childhood development.