Source: Indys Child Parenting Magazine

Developing Community-Based Skills in Kids with Autism
Local programs making a difference in the quality of life

by Carrie Bishop

February 01, 2012

Autism or no autism, as kids grow so do their needs. That’s why many experts say once kids on the spectrum reach 10 and older they need to focus on skills and academics they will use in everyday life.

Enter programs like the Learning in Functional Environments or L.I.F.E. program at the Applied Behavior Center for Autism. This program, which took flight in December, focuses on language and social, vocational and daily living skills within a real-life environment.

Unlike a traditional center-based approach, L.I.F.E. occurs in an actual home teaching students things like how to go to the grocery store, manage money and use a debit card, and work and socialize within the community. The idea is that people learn best and generalize best when they are taught in environments in which the skills are to be used.

According to Janine Shapiro, speech language pathologist and board certified behavior analyst with the Applied Behavior Center for Autism, the center is not removing any academic targets from L.I.F.E. clients’ data books. They are simply targeting those same academic principles within a functional context.

Lane Dickson, 13, of Noblesville, is one of the L.I.F.E. students. According to his dad, David, before L.I.F.E. Lane compartmentalized the center and home. “He would work really hard at the center and do what was asked of him. At home he would check out,” said David.

Since starting the new program he has begun transitioning daily living skills more readily because he is moving from one house to another. He wants to do his own cooking and can prepare a microwave-ready mac and cheese meal and make his own sandwich. He’s more involved with laundry.

Lane’s parents used to not take him shopping simply to avoid meltdowns when he could not get the toy he saw. Now that he is learning the process of shopping for a certain meal or thing, he understands that when he goes to a store it’s not to hunt down a favorite toy.

Through the program Lane also works two hours a week at a car wash. “The idea is to let him learn the skills he needs so when he turns 15 he can have a job there and get paid,” said David, who describes the opportunity as a positive experience for Lane.

Like Lane, many L.I.F.E. students have been placed in volunteer positions around Noblesville. “The target is not so much the skill they are performing but on the social relations with different people,” said Shapiro. For instance, they are learning how to respond to a boss and interact with customers and others.

Shapiro said other centers will likely be heading in this direction. Little Star Center is one already offering what they call the Middle Star program, which focuses on developing functional skills. Students in this program work both at the center and at home, some also receive help from the center in their workplace.

“Part of teaching a skill is not to do it in just one spot. Can they take clothes out of a dryer here, at home, at the laundromat, grandma’s house? That’s how we know someone’s successful,” said Mary Rosswurm, executive director of Little Star Center.

The Behavior Analysis Center for Autism too offers BACA Prep, which is housed in a 22,000 square-foot facility. It focuses on employment skills, academic skills, language skills, safety skills, self-care skills, leisure skills, and other areas that will strengthen each student’s life.

Shapiro hopes parents see that these types of programs are not them giving up on their child but as programs that support their child’s future. One thing is for certain though, L.I.F.E. is already making a difference in the quality of life for kids like Lane.