The Housing & Adult Services team has received many inquiries in recent months from families looking for housing resources for young adults with autism who also exhibit challenging behaviors. In an effort to increase access to different programs from around the country that serve this population, we turn our "Home of the Month" spotlight on a residential program that specializes in caring for these adolescents and young adults.
This post is by Richard Mingoia. Richard Mingoia is the Chief Executive Officer and President of Youth Consultation Services (YCS) in New Jersey, where he has been for the past 16 years. YCS is the largest provider of children's behavioral health and special education in New Jersey, serving about 2,000 children, youth and young adults daily.
In recent years, we have heard increasingly from concerned parents and state agencies about residential programs for adolescents and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. I listened often to desperate parents who love their children deeply and were worried for their safety and that of their families. They have painfully shared how their children’s behaviors are beyond their control at home, and how a simple dinner out at McDonald’s is often an impossible task. In 2010, Youth Consultation Services (YCS) responded. Working in partnership with the New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities, we created YCS Sawtelle Services: educational, in-home care and residential programs for children, teens and young adults with autism, developmental disabilities and challenging behaviors.
As a behavioral health and social services agency, YCS has won a hard-earned reputation for our ability to care for psychologically fragile individuals who were difficult to place because of their challenging behaviors. Utilizing small group homes, we have worked hard to create warm and caring environments within a solid therapeutic structure to help guide adolescents and young adults in their healing from past traumas. I knew we could apply many of these same principles to help young people with autism become more stable and improve their level of functioning. And I knew our staff at Sawtelle Learning Centers could provide the expertise in ABA methods needed to help individuals with autism reach their full potential.
Tina M. was one of the first parents I met about Sawtelle. She and her 14-year-old daughter had been living in the emergency room of a local hospital after an especially violent episode at home. Because of her child’s autism diagnosis, Tina was told that the hospital’s psychiatric unit would not admit her daughter; they were simply not equipped to treat her dual diagnosis of autism and behavioral health issues. While at the hospital, even when heavily medicated, her daughter remained self-injurious. That is when Tina came to us.
At YCS Sawtelle Hall, our clinical team worked around the clock providing Tina’s daughter with one-on-one care. Our pediatrician adjusted her medications and the team was diligent in protecting her from self-injury. Over time, the team became sensitive to the adolescent’s needs. They could anticipate what agitated her and how to prevent outbursts. Today, Tina’s daughter is now able to attend school at the YCS Sawtelle Learning Center, and the staff at the school and Sawtelle Hall work together to provide cohesive treatment.
I believe it is critical to include family members at every turn. We try hard to understand and be empathetic to family needs. Tina is updated daily about her daughter’s progress and setbacks and she participates fully in the treatment plan discussions. It has been a long, difficult journey, but Tina sees progress – her daughter is now more calm, less aggressive and more comfortable around her peers than ever before. She can sit in the Community Room and watch TV and she participates in weekly barbeques with other teens. Last summer, she attended YCS sleep-away camp and enjoyed various outdoor activities alongside her fellow campers. Tina’s ultimate goal, however, is to bring her daughter home. And today, with the support of two aides, Tina’s daughter is now able to come home for short visits. It is important for us to evaluate each individual’s strengths and try to build on them. Each person’s victory – no matter how big or small – is an accomplishment celebrated by all our staff.
We now have eight residential programs throughout New Jersey. At each site our goals remain the same: keep families involved in their child’s life and keep all of our individuals involved in their communities. Whether it is an outing to a park or the bowling alley, a visit to the local fire station, or a trip to an ice cream parlor, we aim to keep each person engaged as much as possible.