Artwork credit: Emily McDowell www.emilymcdowell.com
Long before the term "early intervention" was coined or preschool for kids at risk was a mandate, I had the privilege of being selected to participate in an innovative model of education for 3 to 5 year olds. It was labeled the Therapeutic Nursery and was conceived by Joyce Keiser, a school psychologist employed by the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. We had only the budget she lobbied for each year, no contracts or assurance of employment from one year to the next. What we did have was a committed and passionate staff of professionals dedicated to the integrative, contextual, and holistic approach of intervention. The children attended class five mornings per week while afternoons were focused on home visits. The purpose of the family component was for training and assisting family members in the modification and implementation of those interventions that appeared effective in the personal growth of their child.
On a monthly basis, the team would visit the classroom for an entire day, observing and interacting in the morning, reviewing progress and challenges as per each child and family in the afternoon. The team consisted of the following: Ann Leibholz (school psychologist), Dick Smith (psychiatirst) , Maggie Gairo (MSW), Dorie Smith (speech/language pathologist), and Joyce Keiser (Program Director). I mention these folks by name because they are among the unsung heroes of early intervention. My teacher mentor was Barbara Gallagher, PhD who opened the first Therapeutic Nursery in Bucks County and helped to develop this novel and creative model. Why is all of this relevant to Autism Family Services? It was the success of the Therapeutic Nursery approach that informed my subsequent quest for learning about family systems. Having a diagnosis of ASD (autism spectrum disorder) affects multiple domains of family life and a systemic approach can enable those involved directly or peripherally to flexibly work with the domains of action, meaning, and emotion. WELCOME!