by Shannon Carr, Communications & Social Media Specialist
Adult clients from Morgan Autism Center are gaining independence while increasing their vocational and language skills at San Jose State University as part of community integration. Twice a week since 2005, six adults have been visiting the university to meet with speech language pathology graduate students.
“There are some expectations to being in a college setting, and the clients rise to that occasion,” says Flo Fuller, Community Integration Program director.
During the first part of the hour and a half visit to the Adult Language Clinic, two clients team up with a clinician and complete tasks that support individually tailored objectives.
“Every client has goals,” explains Dr. Carol Zepecki, CCC-SLP, clinic supervisor at San Jose State. “We make a point of reminding clients about their goals and the skills they are developing.”
During a recent visit, Morgan Autism Center clients Jonathan O. and Jimmy were paired with their student clinician. The session began with the clinician teaching Jonathan the rules of an activity in order to build sequencing skills.
“Jonathan really shines when the clinician makes the setting feel as naturalistic as possible,” the student clinician said.
Jonathan then explained the rules to Jimmy and practiced expressive language skills.
“I like my clinician because she is a good teacher and I like to work on speech language,” Jimmy said.
During the activity, the clinician reminded the two to share words of encouragement with each other and also take pride announcing who was winning.
“Between the two of them, I’m being pushed completely out of my comfort zone, which is where I want to be,” the student clinician says. “They’re pushing me to think outside the box, question how I do things, think on my feet and driving me to be a better clinician.”
After approximately 45 minutes working with their individual clinician, the 12 clients (six from Morgan Autism Center) and six clinicians come together for a group activity in order to apply their skills in a functional activity. The activities are geared toward the theme of the semester, this time being teamwork and leadership.
Earlier in the semester, the group met with a librarian and toured the library. The following week, certain clients were selected to act as leaders, or librarians, in a team. Those people helped others look up the library address on an iPad before helping them sign up for a library card and find a library event by looking through a magazine.
“Each of the clinicians take turns running the group activity. This semester, the clinicians will involve their clients in the leadership of the group activity and we plan all those well in advance,” Carol says. “So they will then be talking about leadership and teamwork when their week comes, and how they will be leaders in their classroom.”
John F. led the class recently with his clinician.
“We have to make the rules for the activities, turn in our conversation cards,” he explains.
Julian, who is one of the newest Morgan Autism Center clients to join the group, says he has enjoyed the experience.
“It is just like being at a college, I would say,” he says. “I really like it a lot!”
In particular, he has enjoyed learning difficult words and phrases.
“Like for example, ‘managing impulsivity,’” he says, “which means like having flexibility.”
Wanda agreed that she has taken away many skills since joining the group.
“I learn even more about having conversations with people and have been learning even more about going to places on campus,” she said.
“I’ve enjoyed watching the clients being able to successfully work in an environment they’re not used to,” she says. “I feel this has helped them with initiating conversations with people and coming up with appropriate questions to ask people.”
Richard Morgan, an employee at Morgan Autism Center, talked about this during a car ride back to the center with some of the clients.
“Do you like meeting new people, Tish?” he asks.
She replies: “I do, but sometimes I need a little help with it.”
Richard concludes: “You know what I’ve noticed? Since you’ve come to San Jose State, it’s a lot easier for you to meet new people. You’re a lot more comfortable than you were before.”
Jonathan O. agrees: “That’s true, I have noticed that.”
While it is clear the visits teach the clients, the relationships are win-win in what the clinicians take away from the experiences as well.
“After realizing how insatiable my desire for more and more knowledge about the field really is, I just can’t seem to fill my brain fast enough,” a student clinician concludes. “It’s one of the reasons these clinics are so indispensable. Being able to experience clients, lesson plans, lesson plans going out the window, surprising behaviors, etc. is so different from hearing someone talk about abstracts in a classroom.”