By Christine Bordelon
The small student-teacher ratio of 7 to 1 at St. Michael’s Special School narrowed further in August when the school began partnering with Touchstone ABA to support students in the classroom with a variety of special needs, including including autism and Down syndrome.
Touchstone’s individual attention was evident at a recent music class held in the newly dedicated St. Michael’s Chapel. As a music teacher, Caitlin Preston-Fulton demonstrated the sounds of various instruments and showed a video of dance moves to 20 students of all learning levels – prompting participation – a Touchstone line technician encouraged a student trying out the dance steps.
This student is one of 13 taking advantage of Touchstone’s Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) Individualized Learning Plans. There is a waiting list for the program, said Dr. Francis Hwang, Touchstone site director at St. Michael’s Special School.
Many, but not all, Touchstone students have autism. Others might just need help adapting to different environments throughout the day, or have cerebral palsy, emotional or behavioral issues, attention deficit or cognitive impairment. hyperactivity (TDHB), she said.
Some students are assigned up to 30 hours a week with Touchstone line technicians, she said, but top performing students might only need seven.
“We don’t look at the diagnosis, we look at the challenges,” Hwang said. Successes are applauded. Hwang gave the example of a customer who, when first introduced to Touchstone, asked for things using a single word.
“If he wanted milk, he would say ‘milk,'” Hwang said. “So what we did was rely on his language. We taught him, “Milk, please. Once he had mastered that, we added another word: “Would you like some milk, please.” »
Building on these skills, bit by bit, broken down into achievable goals, he can now, unprompted, say, “I want some milk, please.”
Hwang said it’s about individually addressing the needs of each student in the classroom. An initial assessment determines self-management goals, but its flexibility allows for instant changes, if needed. Each student is formally evaluated every three to six months.
“I go to class and dedicate at least one hour per student per week,” Hwang said. “It’s about continuous evaluation, continuous supervision and review of programs. We have a system where we train our technicians online to bring the data to me and make research-based decisions, so we don’t waste customers’ time and can teach them more effectively. Our goal is to help students be a member of society without us.
The improvement is measurable
Dr. Cissy LaForge, Principal of St. Michael’s School, said that when educators understand what students need, more educational progress can be made in a classroom. That’s the beauty of having Touchstone on campus.
“They can shape behavior because they participate in it,” LaForge said. “Dr. Francis is in and out of the classroom all day and can readjust the plan immediately,” enabling teachers to teach.
“Overall, there’s less classroom disruption (and kids being pulled out of the classroom for behavioral issues) because you have someone on it right away,” LaForge said. “With a teacher and an assistant in a classroom, a teacher could have spent their time with one or two students with problems (before Touchstone’s ABA services). Now our teachers can really focus a bit more on the pedagogical core.
Because each student’s needs are so individual, LaForge said some students will have the line technicians in the morning to set up to allow for more focus and readiness to learn. Others might need a line technician for physical education or music, as it is more difficult for them. Everything is recorded and improvement is tracked. Parents receive constant feedback.
“Every day there are trips back and forth with the family,” LaForge said.
LaForge, who is in his second year as head of the school, mentioned how Touchstone has even improved his interaction with students.
“It helped my learning curve,” she said. “I haven’t always understood why a student does such and such a thing. Touchstone helps me understand our children better and interact more productively with them.
LaForge said St. Michael’s Special School sought out Touchstone because many younger students, mostly with autism, came to St. Michael from a clinical setting, not an environment. preschool, and did not have the habits expected in a regular classroom.
“They didn’t come out of a typical preschool program where you learn to share, sit in a chair, feed yourself, potty, etc.,” LaForge said.
“They didn’t have those typical skills. We needed something to transition kids and shape their behavior in the school setting.
LaForge said it also gives parents the choice of extra help in the classroom. Additionally, St. Michael contracts with long-time Crane Rehab Center providers for special needs students.
“Kids need that support,” LaForge said. “It’s like intensive care. When you’re in intensive care, all the specialists are on you and constantly talking to each other to get you started. We should have that, especially when they are small. If we put all these resources on them early, hopefully we can have better long-term results for our children. It will be less frustrating for them, they will adapt to school earlier, their social skills – interacting with others – will develop quickly.
Touchstone ABA works primarily with students through middle school, but offers an after-school program for all ages at St. Michael. Parent participation is encouraged and monthly parent education meetings are available. Touchstone works in schools and clinics in Thibodaux, Houma, New Orleans, Hammond, Baton Rouge and Lafayette.
“We’re hoping they’ll work with one student themselves and choose another,” LaForge said.