The Kids Learning Loft, an applied behavior analysis services center in Williston Park, is looking to expand its services through a business outreach program for its students with autism.
The center typically works with younger children, but has some teens it has been working with since they were little, said Jennifer Kourassanis-Velasquez, a licensed behavior analyst and co-director of the program.
“We want to make sure we continue to evolve the skills they need to work on and just don’t stay fixated on what they know and transition them into more functional skill sets and independent living as adults,” she said.
Kourassanis-Velasquez reached out to the Williston Park Chamber of Commerce to see if local businesses are interested in letting the students volunteer.
The children would be about 16 or 17 years old, and most likely volunteering a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday, Kourassanis-Velasquez said.
A trained therapist would be with the child during the time he or she is volunteering.
Applied behavioral analysis is rooted in therapy by manipulating the environment around the students.
“That’s what we’re going to be doing when we go into the community,” Kourassanis-Velasquez said.
Some businesses she had in mind for the program are pizza stores, where students could help put together boxes, or a pharmacy, where they could help stock shelves.
Those tasks are where her students thrive, Kourassanis-Velasquez said.
“Something that can be repeated over and over again,” she said.
Kourassanis-Velasquez said the center’s plans always involve outlining goals and using motivating reinforcement.
With the outreach program, for example, a goal-oriented lesson could ask the students to speak to three different workers and find out five new things about them, Kourassanis-Velasquez said.
The reinforcement may be “if you do a good job we’ll go out for pizza,” she said.
“Not all of our students are motivated to socialize, or don’t know how,” Kourassanis-Velasquez said. “If they don’t have the skill set we teach them and motivate them to even try and attempt it.”
She said she hopes local businesses “welcome our kiddos with open arms.”
“We see a very bright future for all of our kids and think this can develop into a much bigger outreach initiative,” Kourassanis-Velasquez said. “We’re really excited to see where this goes.”