Three-Year-Old Makes Progress through Participation in You & Me Autism Program
January 03, 2022
Medically based, data-driven, one-on-one program offers gold-standard therapy for young children through kindergarten age diagnosed with autism
When Julian Pulgarin was one year old, his parents, Amanda and Luis, noticed he wasn’t meeting expected developmental milestones. Shortly after that, he started receiving early intervention services at home through JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute’s Pediatric Rehabilitation Early Intervention Program. In December 2020, Julian was diagnosed with autism.
“The day we received Julian’s diagnosis, I started making phone calls about additional services,” says Amanda. “Our early intervention occupational therapist mentioned the You & Me Autism Program [at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute] in Edison because he also works there. The program is five minutes away from our home in South Plainfield, so I decided to check it out.”
Gold-Standard Autism Care
The first You & Me Autism Program opened in 1992 and our latest program is designed for children ages 2-5. The program provides one-on-one medical rehabilitation using the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) method — the gold standard for autism therapy. If needed, children who participate in the program may also receive occupational and speech therapy services.
The program is staffed by professionals with qualifications including board certified behavior analyst, special educator, and registered behavior technician — and several team members have nearly 30 years of pediatric autism rehabilitation experience.
“In July 2021, when Julian was two-and-a-half, we received approval from our insurance to start the program — and he has been there ever since,” says Amanda.
Easing the Transition
When the You & Me care team met Julian, he had significant developmental delays.
“When Julian started the program, he had limited language — probably less than 10 words total — made little eye contact and was very self-directed,” says Nicole McDowell, LSW, BCBA, supervisor at the You & Me Program. “We performed an assessment and set goals and objectives for Julian, including developing expressive and receptive language, daily living, cognitive and play skills.”
On Julian’s very first day, his care team — which includes McDowell, special educator and Registered BehaviorTechnician (RBT) Danuta (Donna) Morandi and RBT Gloria Oviedo — began using pairing, a relationship-building technique that taught Julian to feel safe with his caregivers and allowed them to learn about him.
“Pairing is an important initial step that allows us to move forward with additional work within the ABA model,” says Morandi. “We want to learn what Julian likes and help him get acclimated to the demands of the program in a stress-free way.”
The team quickly learned that one of Julian’s favorite things is animals — and when Julian began having difficulty separating from his parents at morning drop-off, the team used this information to work toward a smooth transition.
“We brought Julian’s favorite animal toy downstairs at drop-off, which helped him to feel comfortable enough to walk into the therapy room with us,” says Oviedo. “After a few weeks, Julian no longer needed the toy and now runs up to us each morning to give us hugs.”
Making Progress through Play
McDowell says Julian is currently working on another ABA skill known as manding, which will enable him to ask for what he needs or wants. Through a combination of manding exercises, speech therapy and additional work on shaping sounds and words, Julian now can say between 50 and 100 words and is beginning to string them together.
“Today, he said, ‘I want the polar bear book,’” says Morandi. “Being able to ask for a book he loves is a huge achievement for Julian.”
The team also uses timers to help Julian transition from one activity to another and is assisting Julian with toilet training and developing social skills.
“In our therapy room, you will see art supplies, sand and blocks — but behind every activity is a goal,” says McDowell. “Our program is data-directed, so we collect and analyze information about Julian’s progress and use it to make decisions about his ongoing therapy needs.”
Another factor contributing to Julian’s success is consistency between the program and home. Julian’s care team has monthly meetings with Julian’s parents to discuss his progress and provide them with information on things they can work on at home.
“These ‘homework assignments’ for Julian and his parents focus on achieving goals such as using greetings, addressing people by name, or following a toilet training schedule,” says McDowell. “Julian’s parents have been fantastic about working with him at home, which has been a huge benefit.”
A ‘Blessing’ for the Entire Family
Amanda says she has noticed tremendous positive changes in the five months since Julian started at You & Me.
“He is much more social, plays with his big sister, can say sentences and can communicate his feelings and needs — it’s a miracle,” says Amanda.
Further, Amanda says she knows her son is in good hands due to the relationships that she, her husband and Julian have developed with McDowell, Morandi and Oviedo.
“I know that Julian is safe and that he is being watched over and cared for when he is at You & Me. The program and the team have been such a blessing,” says Amanda. “We believe God is always answering our prayers for Julian, and without the support of the program, I don’t know what we would do.”
Next Steps & Resources:
- Meet our Experts: To make an appointment with one of our experts or a doctor near you, call 800-822-8905 or visit our website.
- To register your child for this program — located in Edison, New Jersey — and complete an intake for evaluation, please call 732-548-7610.
- Learn about pediatric rehabilitation at JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Institute: Pediatric Rehabilitation Services
The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.
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