WP autism practice finds biz booming


One year after opening in Williston Park to treat autistic children, the Kids Learning Loft has grown quickly in both clients and forms of therapy offered.

“Our practice has expanded 10-fold,” said Learning Loft co-director Jennifer Kourassanis-Velasquez. “We’re growing faster than we imagined.”

The Kids Learning Loft, located on the third floor of 436 Willis Ave., now maintains seven social skills groups of children meeting in hour-long therapy sessions on Saturday and Sunday. 

Each group is now at full capacity with four students, including what Learning Loft co-director Christine Saunier-Cinotti. Saunier-Cionotti describes as a “typical development” child functioning as a control.

The social skills classes allows the children to learn by taking turns playing with toys, making contact, understanding and recognizing social cues, answering and asking questions and expressing their feelings. A Breakfast Club class attempts to give the school-age autistic children social dining skills.

The children being treated range in age from five to 15 years old.

The speech therapy treatment provides “mechanical” instruction for kids who have trouble verbalizing as well as instruction on appropriate language to use in social settings. 

A new consulting director of speech and animal therapy, Priscilla Makhmaltchi, introduced her pet guinea pig Benny to the kids because Saunier-Cinotti said it has been shown that animals help autistic children cope with their emotional issues.

“They talk about what the animal likes to eat as opposed to what they like to eat. And they pet him and they hold him,” Saunier-Cinotti said.

“We always wanted to offer speech. The animal therapy is a bonus,” added Saunier-Cinotti.

Kids Learning Loft has also grown its one-on-one daily in-home therapy sessions with the assistance of insurance companies, which now cover applied behavior analysis, an approach that seeks to modify human behaviors as part of a learning or treatment process.

“Business in that respect has grown tremendously,” Kourassanis-Velasquez said.

The women say their next objective is to open an applied behavior analysis school in a separate location. They also hope to establish their own autism foundation. And they want to start to a program that teaches parents of autistic kids techniques to deal with them at home.

“We hope to start holding parent training workshops,” Kourassanis-Velasquez said.

With the change in insurance coverage for applied behavior analysis, the Learning Loft co-directors said they plan to revisit a relationship they’ve had with the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park for patient referrals. 

Kourassanis-Velasquez and Saunier-Cinotti said they made a presentation to staff members of the Cohen center on behavioral analysis shortly after opening their business last year.

The partners said they have already signed contracted with several school districts, including Syosset, Elmont, Franklin Square, Deer Park and Levittown to provide on-site treatment. 

Many of the children treated at Kids Learning Loft  or by therapists who work there are referred by schools in Herricks, New Hyde Park, Floral Park, Mineola and the Willistons, they said.


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