Taking on the Next New Thing: Chris’ Path to Independence

Chris Handshake 

Chris loves interacting with people and is known for his sense of humor. He communicates verbally and through Augmentative Alternative Communication systems. And he works diligently at his many vocational jobs. You might never guess that life for 18-year-old Chris – who has multiple disabilities including ADHD and apraxia of speech – and his family was very different before he arrived at Crotched Mountain School. His aggressive behavior, anxiety and difficulty communicating made learning and socializing challenging. “Before Crotched Mountain, Chris couldn’t talk. Now he talks all the time,” says his mother Terry. “He has made huge gains since coming to Crotched Mountain and is almost a different person now.” Chris’ transformation took time, patience and a consistent focus on positive behavior supports and communication skills that ultimately uncovered Chris’ true nature.


Unlocking the positive

One key to Chris’ success at Crotched Mountain was learning to manage his aggressive behaviors through positive behavior supports and modeling. His current plan includes de-escalating techniques such as counting, deep breathing and physical activities that he often initiates on his own. "Life excites Chris so much, he gets distracted by it," notes his teacher, Jess Granger. "And with cues these strategies help calm him and redirect his attention.” His educators, therapists and support staff also model appropriate behaviors for Chris, and his family has seen the difference at home. In the past, Chris would grab people in excitement or in frustration. Now, his mother says he greets people appropriately, and when he is upset he shows greater self-control by using the behaviors he has learned at school. He also helps others to do the same. “If Chris sees another student touching someone inappropriately, he says ‘safe hands’ and models holding his hands,” notes his mother.


Enhancing communication and life skills

Chris ipad 

When Chris arrived at CMS, his speech was unintelligible, which caused him great frustration. Today, Chris’ team of speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists use a combination of therapies and supports to help Chris successfully communicate, socialize and pursue life skills. Individual speech sessions help Chris improve his articulation. He uses Mayer Johnson Picture Symbols to communicate in certain situations. And he’s now learning to use an iPad app called Autismate for communicating and for vocational jobs. “Chris has always been a social young man," says Devon Hubert, M.S., CCC-SLP, his speech-language pathologist. “Being able to communicate has helped to open a new world to Chris.”


One aspect of that world includes shopping and cooking, which are co-treated by Chris’ therapy team. Before going to the grocery store each week, Chris and Devon create a shopping list by placing picture symbols on a pocket-sized Velcro board. Chris uses the list to locate the grocery items, with occasional cues from staff. As he finds an item, he moves the symbol to the back of the board. The next day, Devon and his occupational therapist help Chris cook his meal in the CMS occupational therapy kitchen. With the success they are seeing, the therapy team decided to introduce Autismate to Chris, a powerful app that supports communication, scheduling, sequencing and social stories. Chris now brings his iPad to the store and uses it to place his order at the deli counter. As his skills increase, Chris may be able to replace his Velcro system with the iPad app. “Our goal is to use the most effective systems to help Chris develop the speaking and recall skills needed to perform these tasks and other life skills as independently as possible,” shares Devon.


Putting vocational skills into practice

Chris spends three days a week in vocational education programs overseen by CMS staff. One of his first jobs was at the CMS recycling center, where he learned to select, match and sort items. Subsequent jobs on-campus include delivering UPS packages to departments and collecting paper recyclables. “As Chris masters skills, his jobs have increased in complexity and have included more socialization,” says Tim Hogue, one of his vocational education counselors. “When he is making deliveries, we model the appropriate way to approach someone and model proper body mechanics for lifting and stacking packages.”


Chris likes having a variety of jobs. Off campus, he picks up recyclables at a local business and delivers them to the town recycling center. And for the past two years he has spent one day a week at a local hospital, collecting documents for shredding. “Chris works on demonstrating appropriate social skills and on follow-through in completing tasks at the hospital,” says Tim. “Repetition is a good tool and he works almost independently on this job. He even did the route in reverse one week without a glitch.”


Next step in vocational exploration

Chris’ team is trialing the sequencing portion of the Autismate app with him in his off-campus recycling route. Images of a ten-step sequence are used to cue Chris to complete the task and move through the job more independently. When Chris finishes a step pictured, he goes on to the next, with occasional cues. “We anticipate that once Chris knows the basics steps, this app will help him focus more on thoroughness,” notes Devon.


Achieving personal goals

Chris Shaws 

This year, Chris reached a milestone in his vocational exploration – working at Shaw’s where he collects shopping carts. “Chris likes working and his goal has always been to work at Shaw’s,” says his mother, Terry. “He loves to visit, knows all the staff by name and enjoys interacting with them.” Chris says that Shaw’s is a “good job,” and enjoys his co-workers. Chris says he also likes “to go behind Shaws. See trucks…look [at] Freihofer truck, Coke truck and chip truck,” a favorite reward for a job well done.

“Chris is so much more capable now in communicating and controlling his impulsiveness,” adds his father Charles. “While we are aware that Chris will always require close supervision, he has made huge progress during his time at Crotched Mountain, and the more skills he can acquire, the better off he will be.”


Contact us to learn how our services can help children to learn and thrive.
Director of Admissions 
603.547.3311, ext. 1894

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