Storm Leugers is a Behavior Therapist at Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). She is based at the Community School’s Phoenix campus, SARRC’s inclusive preschool for ages 18 months to 5 years old that provides intensive, ABA-based programming for children with ASD and high-quality early childhood education for typically developing children.
“I’m in the Pre-K classroom, which means I work with our 4- and 5-year-old students,” she explains. “I provide direct one-to-one behavior intervention for children with autism, along with providing learning opportunities and social opportunities for our treatment clients and our non-treatment clients.”
There are 16 children in the classroom she works in, with 6 clients and 10 typically developing children.
“It’s a peer-model preschool, so students with an autism diagnosis are able to learn, interact and model from their typically developing peers,” Leugers explains.
We caught up to her for a peek into one of her typical days:
7:15-7:30 a.m.: I arrive at work and set up our classroom for the day. There are five teachers per classroom and we rotate which person arrives early each day to set up.
7:50-8:15 a.m.: We begin our day with recess, so we meet the parents at the front of SARRC, rather than in the classroom, so the kids can start becoming a little more independent. They are dropped off and head right out to our playground. Kids enjoy recess where we are able to engage and create social opportunities for all. We try to have contact with every student at least once every minute. We’re constantly on the go and on the move, creating learning and social opportunities!
8:30 a.m.: We bring our students into the classroom where they stow their belongings into their cubbies. We do health and wellness checks with them and they wash their hands. Then, we have a snack until about 9 a.m., and after that, we begin circle time. One of the clinicians in our classroom will run circle time, calendar and phonics. This is teaching the kids how to sit for a prolonged period of time, to give attention to whoever is in charge, and to give respect to their peers. It’s a really fun time of the day. We do something called jolly phonics—it’s songs that teach you the sounds of all the letters and it’s quite the hit in our Pre-K classroom!
9:45 a.m.: This is our time for structured activities. There’s a lot of learning and curriculum, and we get even more hands-on time with them. We have two stations—one is for activities, and teaching, and more structured intervention programs; and one is a play area, which is a place to cultivate interactive play and social skills. We do a big group activity at the end, usually a fine motor skill that we’re teaching all of our students.
It’s wonderful when our students with an autism diagnosis make progress in learning these new skills. What’s so impactful to see, is when they thrive in the learning environment and model skills from their typical peers or ask their typical peers for help.
11 a.m.: We have 15-20 minutes of recess. We play games like follow-the-leader, which helps with learning and following instructions and teaches them to be engaged and interact with peers. There are lots of other different imaginative play and social games, too.
11:20-11:45: Lunch is next—it’s everyone’s favorite part of the day. They wash and we have their lunches set up for them. It’s important social time—we talk with them; talk about their homes, families, and try to connect what they’re learning at school with the rest of the world. After lunch, we have silent reading, and a clinician will pick a book and do story reading until the end of the day at noon.
Noon: The end of the school day! Our full-day students stay on campus for the rest of the day. Our students with autism are then transitioned to 1:1 intervention for the remainder of the day.
12:45 p.m.: I somewhat change hats and start intervention with my client. Sessions are from 12:45-3:15 p.m. This is a one-on-one therapy session I have with one of my clients. I am able to engage and pair with the client I have for the day. Each of my clients has many unique client-specific programs, but we’ll spend the afternoon embedded in life skills or educational programs. We have a lot of fun. We play games that involve skills and learning, such as practice tracing their names. A big part of what we do is PRT [Pivotal Response Treatment]. Everything I do is high effect—I’m excited; I’m their cheerleader. I’m there to cheer them on even if they get something wrong. I’ll correct them but be praising them so that they’re excited and learn. We’ll take a snack break in here too,
3 p.m.: We start cleaning up and put away toys. I’ll write my notes on our session so the parent can look at them, too.
3:15 p.m.: The parent or caregiver picks up their kiddo and I’ll give them a brief overview of the day. After they leave, I take some desk time to look over the programming of a few of the clients whom I work with. I’m the case lead for one client, so I’ll look at graphs, see how he’s progressing and determine if he needs new programs. I’ll also write new programs, as well as have meetings with supervisors and additional team members to create and develop programs for clients.
Desk time is a lot of fun for me because I’m able to work on the science side of my work. I’ll make presentations about a clients’ program/progress or intervention strategies, work with emails and write reports until about 4:30 or 5 p.m. when I head home. Some days I will meet clients at their house, so I’ll leave SARRC at 3 p.m. and drive to their home for in-home sessions that generally last a few hours. We run these sessions similar to the in-center 1:1 sessions and additionally work on more adaptive/life skills programs.