This is a post by Johanna Schaaf, Deputy Director, Supports For Living at Elwyn, a human services organization serving disabled and disadvantaged individuals for over 160 years.
Elwyn began in 1852 as a community-based organization in a small house in the Germantown residential section of Philadelphia, PA. The vision of Elwyn’s founders was far-reaching -- one of enabling people with intellectual disabilities to function as contributing members of their community and to live, work and enjoy life just like the rest of us! Of the 12,000 individuals Elwyn serves today, 90% of them are supported directly in the community, realizing this initial vision.
Community supports have been provided for many years through Elwyn’s Community Residential Services (CRS). Just over 8% of the more than 600 adults who Elwyn supports through CRS have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. These services include six single-family homes that are home to 19 young adults on the autism spectrum and/or with behavior challenges. Many of these individuals came from children’s services as they “aged out” and moved into adult community services and supports. These young adults range from 21 to 31 years of age.
Teams work to educate neighbors about people on the spectrum because Elwyn realizes that how our neighbors perceive us reflects on every individual with developmental disabilities and autism. Early in developing a new program or opening a new home, representatives meet with neighbors and attend zoning board and township meetings. The many and sometimes difficult questions that community members may have about autism are answered. While this initial planning is crucial, community outreach is managed on a daily basis.
Elwyn homes are staffed with direct support professionals in a 1:2 (staff-to-client) general ratio, who are overseen by a program supervisor; for individuals who require more intensive supports, the team assesses and secures additional staffing. Supports are overseen by a program specialist who leads each individual’s team in planning, completing assessments and identifying outcomes for an annual Individual Support Plan. A program director is responsible for both the clinical and operational aspects of all six homes. The team also works closely with a nurse to ensure the individual’s healthcare needs are addressed.
Transitions for individuals with autism can be difficult, so a transition plan is paramount. Elwyn works with each family and team on a transition plan to best meet the needs of the individual. Accessing a Behavior Support Plan (BSP) as early as possible empowers a young adult to successfully transition into the community. Pre-transition training on BSPs is critical, and Elwyn provides behavior specialist services directly to these individuals. These services include Functional Behavioral Assessments and BSP development and training. Elwyn’s clinical behavioral specialists are experienced and highly trained professionals who specialize in autism.
Training is of utmost importance at Elwyn, and new staff members initially receive an intensive orientation outside the home. Staff then receive a site orientation to the home where they are assigned. Training on each individual’s BSP and a review of the structures, schedules, and specific person-centered information and home operations follow. Training is fluid, with annual refreshers and new trainings when changes occur in the individuals’ plans.
Each home is designed with safety in mind, and space for sensory stimulation and environmental restructuring is necessary for many of the individuals who reside there. Bead board is used for wall construction in homes where individuals are prone to pulling off drywall. Plexiglass can be used to safeguard items that may be thrown to the floor, such as the TV, and large furniture is secured in place to prevent injury. A privacy fence is installed for back yards so that individuals can safely enjoy leisure time outside. Communication boards are used in homes for people who cannot verbalize their needs. Assessing the needs of the person before and after they move into a home in the community helps enable the person to have a safe and successful transition. Structure – both a daily schedule for the home and individual schedules – helps individuals with autism thrive. Changes are planned for ahead of time to maximize positive outcomes. Outcomes are developed promoting social, communication and functional living skills while decreasing challenging behaviors that inhibit a person’s ability to function at his/her fullest potential.