“If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” This quote from autism advocate Dr. Stephen Shore rings especially true for Melissa Packowski (BSEd, Childhood and Special Education, ‘12), a Clinical Manager and lead BCBA (board-certified behavioral analysis) at Quest Autism Programs who has worked with adult learners with autism since she graduated. Melissa oversees eleven direct support personnel and works with 20 clients providing services to adults with autism who still need support with skill acquisition and generalization. As lead BCBA, Melissa is responsible for writing individualized programs that meet each client’s unique needs. Her staff then implements the program needed to develop independence or decrease problematic behaviors in their clients.
Although Melissa was trained to teach young children, a friend encouraged her to visit Quest Autism Programs and observe how they use Applied Behavioral Analysis with adults. During her visit, Melissa was invited to interview for a position there. As part of the interview process, Melissa was asked to demonstrate her knowledge of discrete trial training and graphing procedures used to measure progress. She had learned both these teaching techniques in her special education classes at St. Thomas Aquinas College. Melissa soon discovered that although adults have different interests and are motivated by different things, the teaching techniques are the same for all learners.
Melissa describes her clients as lifelong learners, “Once school is over, it doesn’t mean learning is over.” She explained that it is important to continue supporting adults with disabilities as they build on their existing skills and assimilate into their communities. One of Melissa’s proudest teaching moments was teaching one of her clients to brush his teeth independently. She explained that although this seems like a simple everyday task, the accomplishment meant that her client was less reliant on the help of others. One of the techniques she used was video modeling. Video modeling is a technique in which the learner watches someone perform a task correctly so that they can emulate the task. It is a valuable tool for teaching skills that involve a series of complex steps. Another example of a skill that can be taught through video modeling is checking out and paying for groceries in a supermarket. Melissa pointed out that clients can store the videos on their cell phones to reference as needed. It is “not stigmatizing because everyone has a phone in their hand.”
Melissa chose St. Thomas Aquinas College because the College is highly recommended for preparing teachers for the real world of educating others. At St. Thomas Aquinas, she participated in the concert choir, worked at the tutoring center, and served as vice president of her senior class. She notes her experience in Student Government Association (SGA) gave her “stepping stones to learn leadership skills in a safe environment.” During her career, Quest Autism Program has supported her to “move up and move forward.” The organization sent Melissa to conferences and provided tuition reimbursement for her Masters degree. Melissa reminds current students to ask prospective employers about professional development support at interviews, as teachers must be lifelong learners.
For more information about our autism programs and life-long learning opportunities contact Dr. Collucci, Director of Graduate Education programs at firstname.lastname@example.org