Allendale Offers A Residential Program for Children with Autism
In the fall of 2017, Allendale was approached by IL DCFS to provide emergency placement and therapeutic services to a family with two children who were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Although our experience with this specialized population was somewhat limited, our dedication to serving children and families in need and facing the potential for two little boys aged 5 and 6 years old to be placed away from their mother in another state, compelled us to partner with DCFS to create a program designed to meet their very specific needs.
Initially…Bryan and James were in profound need of a structured, consistent and safe environment. When they first arrived, they required diapers and were in desperate need of medical and dental care. They were unable to use silverware or even eat at a table. The boys had virtually no capacity to verbally communicate and were behaviorally aggressive seemingly relying on primitive instinct with an absence of fear or danger. Their connection to one another was strong—so in tune with each other that if one began to act out aggressively, so then would the other. They were extremely sensitive to change and craved consistency.
One year later and following successes achieved in treating this initial family, Allendale was again approached by DCFS with another very similar referral and it became clear that we needed to expand our capacity to serve young children with autism. Applying the lessons we have been learning along with our continuing partnership with the Early Autism Project, a Chancelight® Company, who provides additional consultation, training, and treatment services, Allendale developed a more comprehensive program plan designed to more fully incorporate evidenced-based treatment applications, enhance daily structure and supervision, and increase staff training leading to specialized certification (Registered Behavior Technician). Renovations were made to one of our cottages—responding to the unique needs of children with autism and their visiting family members. Additional staff was needed to help with special sensory integration activities, strength-based therapeutic interactions and skill development. In the fall of 2019, DCFS approved this expanded plan and contracted with Allendale to serve up to six children between the ages of 5 to 9 years old to better support families and this growing need for the care and treatment of children with autism in the State of Illinois.
Today…with the help of dedicated staff, Bryan and James can communicate using tools such as an iPad with specifically designed apps allowing them to express their needs and feelings; have been linked to uniquely qualified providers in the community to manage their extensive medical and dental care needs; and both boys attend a specialized school designed for autistic students in which the school and Allendale staff collaborate closely on developing goals and utilizing shared approaches to ensure treatment continuity across both our programs. The boys’ frustration and aggressive behaviors have markedly decreased as their capacity to understand and interact with others within their environments continues to improve. On any given afternoon, sounds of laughter and play echo throughout the campus as Bryan and James run, jump and giggle at the Allendale playground. Every Sunday, staff facilitate family visits for Bryan and James with their mother and two brothers, who reside in Chicago and a neighboring county, to ensure and maintain their family connection.
Like all children in our therapeutic residential program, the Autism Program serves children who are unable to remain safe in a less restrictive environment such as foster care or the home of a relative. Our primary objective is to help teach the children and their families a practical mode of communication, increase their daily living skills and activities, improve social interaction and substitute behaviors with those that increase the overall quality of life—leading to the successful re-integration back to home and community living environments with family and natural supports. The overall goal of the Allendale Autism Program is to successfully discharge children to less restrictive environments, and, whenever possible, transition them back home.
“We are excited for this opportunity where we can, together with our partners, continue to find new and innovative ways to help care, treat, educate and support children and families with serious emotional, developmental, mental and behavioral health challenges and to help remind them they are not alone.” -Jason Keeler, President & CEO