Classrooms at the Center for Autism and Developmental Disorders (CADD) are rarely calm, but when you come from a family with seven siblings you’re used to a little chaos. Sarah Fitzgerald has been a level 3 educational technician in the Center’s Day Treatment program for almost a year and a half, and thrives in her role. “I got into the field because I love working with children. It’s rewarding to work with a child long enough to anticipate their needs, even if they can’t always communicate them.”
The CADD Day Treatment program follows an integrated treatment model designed to stabilize school-aged youth, 5-20 years old, who have autism or an intellectual disability. An Individualized Education Program (IEP) is developed for each student at admission, which ed. techs like Sarah help carry out. Like any other school setting, children attend a six-hour school day in a classroom setting with other students. “We work on their social skills and give them tools to communicate in a meaningful way. We also teach them life skills and reinforce their strengths to help them build confidence and independence.”
In Sarah’s classroom there are five students, and each child is accompanied by a staff member at all times. In order to avoid burnout, staff rotate to a new student at lunchtime. “It’s helpful to work with different children,” Sarah said. “They can get tired of working with the same staff member, and having different people reinforce the same behavior plan can help the child succeed. They feel like they can reach out to any of us for support.”
“Sarah is just wonderful,” said Dr. Steffanie Brackett, Clinical Director for the Day Treatment Program. “She has a fantastic attitude and is always smiling. During one of our professional development days last summer we asked clinical staff to nominate educational technicians to represent each of the six organizational values. Sarah was unanimously voted to represent ‘Integrity.’ She really owns her role and is a leader for her peers.”
“This is the coolest group of co-workers,” Sarah said. “We constantly support and recognize each other. Dr. Brackett is always leaving notes in our mailboxes recognizing the good work we do.” Sarah says that little gestures like that can make a big difference at the end of a challenging day.
When asked what the best part of her day is, Sarah doesn’t have to pause. “Some of these kids have the best smiles,” she said. “We have one little girl, and when she ‘gets’ a lesson she has this freckly, huge grin and it’s the best.”
Most students will age out of the Day Treatment Program when they turn 21, but staff like Sarah help them shadow adult services so they will be able to transition smoothly to another program when they leave CADD. The dedication and compassion that she and her co-workers show day after day has made a tremendous difference for many Maine families, and we’re grateful to have them on the Maine Behavioral Healthcare team.