Hudson Valley offers parents of special needs children caring and positive advocates. Here are just three to know about.
Vital Behavior Services, based in Beacon, supports children with developmental delays such as autism. “We serve as a sort of go-between with parents and schools,” says Clinical Director Nicole Weinstein. They offer several types of services and will work with BOCES and school districts to offer behavioral plans for kids; parents can also request an evaluation; they will provide private parent training in the home; and will also offer social-skills classes for kids.
The overall goal is to create programs that are effective, realistic and useful in a child’s everyday life, Weinstein says. “When assisting children with disabilities, it’s important to encourage skills such as appropriate behavior and communication, as well as social interaction and increased independence,” she adds.
The organization’s team uses a variety of techniques, including interviews with parents, student observation, and behavioral assessment tools to create individualized educational opportunities for children. Direct instruction can be offered at home, at a child’s preschool or at school for older students, as appropriate for the individual.
Vital Behavior Services currently assists families in Dutchess, Rockland, Orange, Putnam, and Westchester counties and New York City. They’re working with 15 school districts, “and the need for these services keeps growing,” says Weinstein.
Vital Behavior Services also helps educate and support parents. They offer several workshops and classes for parents of children aged 18 months all the way up to adulthood.
There’s been a fortunate shift in society regarding people with disabilities, says Jennifer Cox, assistant director of education at Abilities First, based in Poughkeepsie. “People are becoming more aware, and more accepting,” she says. And when it comes to children with physical or developmental challenges, “There’s more focus nowadays on considering what children can do, what their abilities are, instead of focusing on their disabilities,” says Cox.
Begun in 1992, Abilities First offers assessments, programs and services for people of all ages with disabilities. Special programs for children include an early intervention program for infants through three-year-olds.
Their preschools in Poughkeepsie and Wappingers Falls are designed for children aged three to five. Older kids and young adults — those aged five to 21, can attend day school at sites in Beacon, Poughkeepsie and Red Hook.
“We focus on helping increase communication and daily living skills, to assist children in manipulating the world better and to provide meaningful experiences,” says Cox. Students from 14 school districts in the mid-Hudson participate, she adds.
“We work with a total-communication approach. There are so many ways to get ideas across, even to children with severe disabilities,” she says. For them, the program uses everything from picture icons and sign language to voice-output devices and eye-gaze charts.
Classes for students include art, music, adaptive physical education, as well as yoga — kids can even take part in drumming sessions.
Abilities First arranges for some older participants to gain experience working in the community; they pitch in at locations such as the Bard College kitchen and local department stores and a local animal sanctuary. “We always stress that parents are a big part of our team,” says Cox. “We all work together to support, assist, and encourage the students.”
“It’s important that parents know they have options. Many organizations are here to assist them in helping children with disabilities,” says Suzanne Tremper of Independent Living, Inc. a resource and referral service in Newburgh.
In recent years, the approach to dealing with disabilities has shifted, she says. “There’s been more awareness about the importance of evaluation, which helps determine what types of assistance are most beneficial for the individual child,” adds Tremper, who is director of the organization’s programs and its Early Childhood Direction center.
Independent Living is a nonprofit agency — partially funded by the Office of Special Education of the New York State Education Department — that’s been active in the region since 1987. Its early childhood direction program focuses on children from birth to age five. Older kids can benefit from the education advocacy program for students aged 4 to 21 — this includes a learning-enrichment after-school program aimed at middle-and-high-school students who have developmental disabilities. Weekend events are also scheduled.
Independent Living also helps in the often complicated task that parents face when seeking useful information and making choices about how best to fill their kids’ needs, Tremper explains.
The group provides free information, referrals and support involving early intervention, child development, behavioral management, special education for preschoolers, and more. Parent trainings and workshops are also available.
Other offerings include home modification services to optimize living space for the disabled, advice on the latest in assistive technology, information on personal-attendant care, special services for the hearing and visually impaired, and more.
An added focus at Independent Living has been to target the underserved Latino population, Tremper notes; Independent Living offers bilingual assistance and information for Latino families throughout the region. The organization is planning expansion, too — with new offices expected to open in Middletown and Sullivan County this fall.
Abilities First; 845-485-9803; abilitiesfirstny.org
Independent Living, Inc.; 845-565-1162; myindependentliving.org
Vital Behavior Services, Inc.; 845-765-0463; vitalbehaviorservices.com
Grace McCoy is a writer and editor who lives in the mid-Hudson.