Life-Changing Outcomes for Exceptional Kids

Comprehensive Programming to Support Children with Developmental Disabilities and Significant Medical Conditions in a School Setting

By Ellen D’Amato, PhD, Carla Johnson, MS, BCBA, and Howard Savin, PhD, First Children Services

Supporting children with autism or other developmental disabilities and significant co-occurring medical conditions presents substantial challenges to teachers, parents and all involved caretakers.  This article presents an overview of the interdisciplinary model and a representative case study illustrative of operations at the First Children School which is an Approved Private School in New Jersey. This hybrid service setting contains components of special education and medical home care.

First Children School, located in Fanwood, New Jersey, is accredited by the National Commission for the Accreditation of Special Education Services (NCASES). The school serves 90 children in grades pre-k through high school with autism and other developmental disabilities. The school provides educational and therapeutic services, per their respective IEPs, to children from 25 sending districts located in seven New Jersey counties. First Children, formerly the school program of Children’s Specialized Hospital, has a long history of providing coordinated educational services to children with challenging developmental, medical and rehabilitative needs. The school benefited from the expertise and resources of the hospital’s medical, therapeutic and rehabilitative staff including neurodevelopmental pediatricians, psychiatrists, orthotists, dietitians, and physiatrists. In 2009, the school acquired a new owner and became First Children. The school continued its collaboration with the hospital through ongoing Neurodevelopmental and Physiatry Clinics. In addition to its staff of nurses, special education teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, speech pathologists, psychologist and social worker, First Children expanded its staff to meet the complex needs of its growing program for children with multiple disabilities. As a result, teachers of the deaf, Board Certified Behavior Analysts, behavior therapists as well as a teacher of the visually impaired and a consulting audiologist were added to the interdisciplinary team. At this time, over seven hundred individual, collaborative and consultative services are provided on each week.

Service delivery by our interdisciplinary teams requires creation, connection and communication between systems. Every child’s educational plan is formally reviewed with parents and case managers after 30 days. Additions/modifications to the plan are made accordingly.interdisciplinary team is identified as well as the types and frequencies of recommended services. Team members then connect on an ongoing basis both informally and during team meetings. Depending on the needs of the child, teams may include a nurse, behavior analyst, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech pathologist, psychologist, social worker, teacher of the deaf or teacher of the visually impaired as well as the special education teacher. Coordination of care is essential to meet the needs of children with a dual diagnosis. Knowledge of each child’s diagnosis by respective team members is key.

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