Like so many others, my first exposure to clinical work was my first summer at Wediko. I encountered a diverse population of both staff and children and, in addition, was introduced to children with a variety of needs. Along with many of the challenges a first-year staff experiences and overcomes in their first summer, one major hurdle was learning to work with each child’s unique set of needs. Often, it seems the solutions to these challenges lay with increasing understanding of self in order to increase understanding of another.
I am excited to be returning this upcoming summer as a Senior Clinical Group Supervisor, reconnecting with old friends and forming new bonds with others. I look forward to educating both senior and general staff around the skills and knowledge I have acquired since my last summer in 2006. Being self-aware of one’s own triggers allows staff to stay more calm, cool and collected during the 45-day intensive program and beyond into their professional and clinical lives.
After four summers at Wediko and a background in intensive home-based services as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, I took a position at a non-profit in Philadelphia working with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), working in a Pre-K Program for children ages 2-5. The program’s primary goal is to address the core deficits of autism so that each child may improve upon their communication, social interaction, self-regulation and behavior. The children participate in predetermined structured activities each day that are based on the goals defined in their individual treatment plan. This was the first time I was working with children on a diverse spectrum, who were non-verbal and utilized other forms of communication such as signs, gestures and PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). I also learned more about the complexity of each individual’s sensory systems and how this impacts their ability to function.
Working on a clinical team that included an Occupational Therapist (OT) and Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) provided new experience within language development and sensory and emotional regulation. Working on a larger clinical team impacted the planning, organization and implementation of daily schedules aimed at addressing each child’s unique needs through gross motor, fine motor movement, sensory integration, and structured small group activities. We also incorporated weekly themes to engage the children in novel ways to further their speech and language development as well as their sensory system.
Along with my clinical education, I also learned more about the research and statistics behind children with an ASD diagnosis. As of March 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 1 in 68 children have ASD, with boys being diagnosed much more frequently than girls. Although there is no current cure, early detection and intervention allows the greatest chance for progress and positive outcomes. According to Autism Speaks, specific symptoms and behaviors to be aware of that may be put a child at risk for ASD include:
- No big smiles or other warm, joyful expressions by six months or thereafter
- No back-and-forth sharing of sounds, smiles or other facial expressions by nine months
- No babbling by 12 months
- No back-and-forth gestures such as pointing, showing, reaching or waving by 12 months
- No words by 16 months
- No meaningful, two-word phrases (not including imitating or repeating) by 24 months
- Any loss of speech, babbling or social skills at any age
Although there is no current cause for ASD, research continues to explore factors that may put a child at risk. The National Institute of Health budgeted 169 million dollars directly to autism research in 2012.
I end this post with a quote that a dear friend and I frequently share with each other: “You had that eye of the tiger, man; the edge! And now you gotta get it back, and the way to get it back is to go back to the beginning. You know what I mean?” I look forward to getting back to the basics and reminding myself why I got into this challenging yet incredibly rewarding field; the friendships, children’s smiles, shared fun and overall great clinical work that we accomplish in a short period of time.
Interested in learning more about National Autism Awareness Month? Click here to learn more about spreading awareness!
Written by: Kyle Manahan, LCSW, Senior Clinical Group Supervisor
Wediko Summer 2003 – Canoe Activity Staff
Wediko Summer 2004 – Residential Counselor
Wediko Summer 2005 – Lead Staff
Wediko Summer 2006 – Supervisor