In The Words of Our Staff
You have to be a special kind of person to work with children with special needs, especially those with delays and disabilities as profound as are often displayed by children on the autism spectrum. You have to have great patience – not only in dealing with difficult behaviors, but waiting for, working toward, and recognizing and valuing the progress each child makes, which in the realm of “normalcy” might seem very small. Jessica Poludin, the lead teacher in New York Center’s preschool ABA class is such a person.
“I’ve always been someone who roots for the underdog,” Jessica smiles, “and I’ve always had a special place in my heart for children with special needs. Seeing the small gains my students make motivates me more than teaching a typically developing child to read or do long division. That isn’t as exciting to me as having a previously non-verbal child utter his or her first word, or make eye contact or engage in play with me, or just follow a simple request, like handing me something.”
“Take RJ, a child in my class currently,” Jessica continues. “I worked with him when he was in New York Center’s Early Intervention (EI) program. He came in with his mother on day one and was completely nonverbal. Over time, he began to articulate a few words. Now, he’s in New York Center’s preschool ABA class and he has begun speaking in complete sentences. He’s made such progress. Today, for example, we were having snack and he pointed to the window and said, “Jessica, the birds are flying.” I wanted to cry. It’s incredible. He’s related. He’s engaged. He’s commenting on things in his environment.”
Her eyes fill with tears.
“I get emotional, because I know where he came from,” she says, “and I know how far he’s come. It’s huge.”
One of Jessica’s main goals is to include parents in the process of their children’s education.
“The parent component is very exciting to me,” she explains. “I can take my knowledge and educate parents and give them the tools they need to effectively interact with their children. I make contact with them as much as possible and all of them are very receptive and have asked for suggestions and further information on the nature of their children’s disorders and strategies they can use or toys they can buy that are developmentally appropriate. I stay in constant touch with them to see what they need. I ask them ‘What can I do for you to make home easier? What can we work on at school that’s going to help you? What kind of changes have you seen and do you have any suggestions for me that we can work on in the classroom? Where are your problem areas?’ I try to support as much as I can.”
Jessica feels the same kind of support working at New York Center.
“There have been amazing opportunities for professional development here,” she says. “There’s constant training and updating of our skills. There are evening workshops and whole days of training by supervisors. It’s a field that’s constantly changing and the supervisors here are really amazing at keeping current in the field. You get training and then 10 hours of observation in the classroom. That’s really beneficial and not something you find everywhere. The supervisor is now sitting with you and a child, so you’re getting to work on and practice your skills and ask questions.”
“The people you find here as a whole are really great,” she concludes. “Everybody enjoys what they do. Everybody is very passionate about their individual department. Everybody works for a common goal. Coming to work is great because you see these smiling faces and you know that everybody’s going to their respective areas, but we’re all working for the same thing. At the end of the day, it’s all about the children, changing their lives. You know you’re making a difference, and that’s what gets you out of bed in the morning.”
- Jessica Poludin