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Union College was awarded the Wildwood Distinguished Partnership Award for their commitment to recruiting candidates with disabilities and their openness to partner with Wildwood as a community resource.

     The NYS Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) and the Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC) are working on a collaborative project.  Entitled, “Creating Purposeful Connections: Building Capacity for Gender-Based Violence Survivors with Developmental Disabilities”, the goal is to  “increase services for people with disabilities who have experienced violence.” A training program is being created and feedback is imperative to its completion.

     Kelly Weiss, Project Coordinator/DDPC Project, New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, attended United People’s Self Advocacy meetings this summer to explain the project and receive feedback in a “learning exchange.” 

      The first advocacy group in NYS to participate was Wildwood’s United People’s Self Advocacy group.  Ms. Weiss facilitated a focused question and answer session regarding domestic violence and the developmental disabilities population. The group had so much to offer, she came back for a second meeting.

     Michelle Summers, Advocacy Specialist and Advocate felt both sessions with Ms.Weiss were meaningful. She stated, “ I felt confident speaking up and that the questions I suggested for the training would be used to help others in the disability community.”  Ms. Weiss listened to what we had to say and took notes.  She reassured us that she would use our ideas in her project. The group’s feedback will help the NYS Office of Domestic Violence to come up with ideas and techniques which are best suited to help our community.

     It is imperative advocates continue to have their opinion and expertise solicited in matters that directly affect them, as they did with this project. Opportunities to provide input on personal, agency, community and statewide matters is necessary and has a direct correlation to improved services. 

     Ms. Weiss encourages anyone who has been injured and/or has any questions may reach her office at:

     New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence

     p. 1-800-942-6906

     Behavior, and all its components, is an integral part of education for students with autism and other disabilities. Many of our students have behaviors that, though may serve a short-term need, are self-defeating and problematic for them. A tool that is employed throughout Wildwood School is Applied Behavioral Analysis.

     Applied behavior analysis requires a precise study of students’ actions  and developing a detailed understanding of what they like and dislike.

     “We all find different things rewarding or reinforcing. The key is to use what a student finds reinforcing in the most effective way possible. It isn’t always as simple as it appears,” Alex Keefer says. Alex is on the behavior team at Wildwood School.

     “Reinforcement is most effective when it is immediate and based on what the individual wants and likes,” Keefer says. “To say, for instance, ‘If you do A, B and C you can have computer time at noon.’ is really inefficient because it isn’t immediate and it isn’t specific to the individual.”

     For some individuals an immediate snack that they like, praise, or even a short walk can be an effective reinforcer if it is paired with the desired behavior. When giving a tangible reinforcer isn’t practical, a secondary reinforcer that leads to a primary reinforcer can be effective.

     Keefer explains: “We sometimes use a system of tokens when an individual exhibits a desired behavior. When those tokens add up, they can be traded in for something they find really rewarding whether that be an experience or something they want like a treat.

     The token is a secondary reinforcer and the treat is the primary reinforcer.”

     It is important to understand that we all do things all the time because of the reinforcers we get. We go to work for a paycheck, we watch TV to distract us or we take a warm bath for relaxation. 

     How can we explain behaviors that are upsetting to witness or that are even hurtful. It may not be as complicated as it first seems.

     “Take for instance, when someone bangs their head. We find it very difficult to understand and it is obviously very disturbing to watch,” Keefer says. “But if we break it down it makes more sense. Someone may have a head ache and the pressure and stimulation may initially cause some relief. The stimulation may be relieving boredom or it may illicit the reaction from others that the individual is looking for, be that attention, comforting or nurturing.”

     Analyzing the behavior can help us understand what the motivation for upsetting behavior is and then alternative, more functional behavior can be substituted. It takes careful observation and communication with people, especially when their verbal skills are limited, to find out what is going on and why a person is choosing the behaviors they do.

     “The key is finding what need they are trying to satisfy and then give them other choices that work better,” Keefer says. “It takes time to figure it for some people.”

     In the past, behavior modification was inappropriately used with people with disabilities. Physical punishment or the withholding of basic human needs were employed to change behavior. These actions put behavior modification techniques in a dim light.

     “We use only positive behavior modification. That means rewarding desired behavior that the student wants to increase,” Alex Keefer says. “Unfortunately, because of an ugly past behavior modification sometimes gets a bad reputation. When positive interventions are the focus,  we can move forward to a brighter chapter of behavior analysis “

     This year Wildwood School  is incorporating a new type of curriculum designed especially for students with developmental disabilities called Essential for Living. It is a comprehensive curriculum that looks at functional learning and places a great deal of emphasis on providing real world settings for learning.

     “Essential for Living teaches skills that will really matter in a student’s life. Skills like communication, daily living and tolerating necessary situations related to health and safety are the focus. Working on them in the situations that they will naturally occur in students’ lives is important,” Pam Baker, Wildwood School’s Instructional Coach, says.

     EFL is a comprehensive curriculum, assessment, and skill tracking strategy. It is designed to be used by teachers, teaching assistants, speech therapists and behavior analysts together in a unified methodology. EFL focuses not only on skills but also on limiting problem behavior. 

     “The system focuses on what EFL refers to as the ‘Essential Eight’. These skills are things like expressing needs and wants, waiting, accepting no, transitioning, responding as a listener and safety skills.” Pam says. “These are skills we all use every day in our lives.”

     Language and communication skills are an important part of the curriculum, especially for students who are non-verbal. EFL focuses on helping students find a communication style that they can use for their lifetime. 

     “EFL focuses not only on what to teach, but how and when to teach those skills,” Pam says. “It also provides a system for tracking the skill development in students so progress can be effectively measured and teaching strategies can be adjusted to meet student needs.”

     Pam Baker is coordinating the implementation of the EFL curriculum. It can be considered an extension of the Common Core Standards and is consistent with the ACE curriculum already used at school. EFL fits perfectly with the existing methods and its use is intuitive for teachers who are new to it.

     “We are starting slowly with EFL because it is new. We are incorporating it throughout the day through different disciplines; teachers and TA’s, speech and language therapy and OT and PT. We are very excited about it,” Pam says.


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