Getting to Know All About Ivo
Starting at a new school is challenging for any child. And transitioning to a residential school can be especially difficult for a student who has autism and serious medical conditions. For the student, everything changes – from old routines to familiar places to friendly faces. For families, the decision to leave their child in someone else’s hands is often filled with a mixture of anxiety and hope.
During this emotional time, students and parents have a partner – in the form of a comprehensive team of professionals. Depending on the student’s needs, our experts join parents and school systems to address the physical, emotional, intellectual and medical needs of each student before, during and after their transition to CM School. Our job is to create success for each child.
Meet Ivo Simons
Such is the case for CM School student Ivo (pronounced “eevo”) Simons, an 11 year old boy diagnosed with a form of autism spectrum disorder called childhood disintegrative disorder. Also known as Heller’s syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder is a condition in which children develop normally until ages two to four, but then demonstrate a severe loss of social, communication and other skills.
“Choosing to send Ivo to a residential school was difficult and heartbreaking for our family,” said Walter Simons, Ivo’s father. “We knew that Crotched Mountain School could provide the educational services and on-campus medical support that Ivo needed, but it was not an easy decision to make. We worried about how he would adjust.”
Acclimating to New Surroundings
Like many children with autism, Ivo’s transition wasn’t easy. “When Ivo came to Crotched Mountain School, he was exposed to more children and adults than in the past,” said Ashlee Crouthamel, Ivo’s classroom teacher at CM School. “Even though he had visited our school and had used the social stories we developed to help with the transition, Ivo was timid and scared. He wandered around the room. His communication skills regressed. And at times, he became aggressive.” The comprehensive team working with Ivo came together to address his needs. They included his teacher, psychologist, therapists from multiple disciplines, his residential counselors and he doctors and nurses from the Health Center. The team spent several weeks observing and assessing Ivo’s skills.
Positive Behavior Support Plan Builds Trust
During this time, Ivo’s psychologist, Eileen Ahern, conducted a functional behavior assessment and developed a positive behavior support plan following best practices in behavior intervention. The positive behavior plan supports Ivo’s IEP goals in areas including self-regulation, functional academics and socialization. It is used by all of Ivo’s staff, including educators, therapists, and residential counselors.
"When developing a plan, we first observe behaviors to determine their root cause. What makes a child comfortable? What causes anxiety or frustration?” says Ahern. “Then we compassionately and consistently reinforce positive behaviors and teach coping strategies to help children manage difficult situations. Our words and actions show students that we understand their wants, needs, feelings and desires. For a non-verbal child like Ivo, fostering a trusting relationship and mutual understanding is a key to success and growth.”
Scheduling for Academic and Sensory Needs
Each student at CM School has a unique daily schedule designed to meet IEP goals and personal needs. A typical day for Ivo rotates through 15 minute segments of academics, therapies or enrichment classes followed by sensory breaks. Physical activities, including swimming, bowling and hiking Crotched Mountain’s accessible trails are staples in Ivo’s schedule. This provides the support and diversity needed for Ivo to successfully participate in academics, therapies and residential life.
Communicating Opens Doors
Ivo came to CM School with a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), but he initially ignored it. Instead, he began leading staff to the items and activities he wanted. His speech therapist, Devon Hubert, reasoned that the new surroundings, equipment and learning materials were all new to Ivo. She updated the system with images and icons representing his daily activities at CM School and then reintroduced the system, which he uses more and more each day. “When children feel they are understood, an increase in independence and self-advocacy skills becomes possible,” she says.
Improved Social Skills in All Aspects of Daily Living
In his residential life, Ivo had to adjust to living away from his family. With the aid of a daily routine and positive behavior support plan, Ivo is thriving. He is communicating his needs, completing household chores, going on group field trips, interacting with staff and high-fiving other students. A similar change has happened in his classroom. Crouthamel notes that most days Ivo participates in Morning Meeting activities with other children and uses his communication skills to ask for things he wants. He’s able to focus on academics for longer periods of time.
In addition to his autism diagnosis, Ivo needed medical management for tardive dyskinesia, a movement disorder. Prior to his arrival, Crotched Mountain’s pediatrician and psychiatrist developed a plan with Ivo’s staff and family with a goal of controlling this disorder by lowering Ivo’s medications. The plan included a gradual reduction process, a consistent monitoring and feedback system and education about the condition. “We are about halfway to our goal at this time, with only a few minor setbacks,” says Dr. Sreenivas Katragadda, a psychiatrist at Crotched Mountain. “Lowering medications can be successful when an entire team supports a child in managing his or her behaviors and anxiety.”
From the Parents’ Point of View
Ivo’s parents, Walter Simons and Hilde Baert, are actively involved in Ivo’s life on campus. They join progress meetings and regularly call to check in on Ivo. Both visit to swim, join field trips and spend quiet time alone with Ivo. Walter says has seen many positive changes. “Within a few weeks, it became obvious that Ivo was happy in his new environment. And today, he has lost all of the excess weight gained in the past year; he is calmer, uses less medication, and seems in excellent health,” reports Simons.
To learn how our integrated services can help your students with autism, contact:
Director of Admissions
603.547.3311 ext. 1894