Day Habilitation Programs Seek to Educate Individuals with Autism
By Maia Vines and Xian Wornell
Education Editor and Assistant Multimedia Editor
On April 11, the ELIJA School and farm partnered with Donna Karan to host an Autism Awareness event for the farm’s new high-tech greenhouse. This will be one of many fundraisers the farm plans to have in the near future.
All across Long Island, recreational and educational day habilitation programs for individuals with Autism such as the ELIJA “Empowering Long Island’s Journey through Autism” Foundation have been working to promote inclusivity while also teaching valuable life skills to community members with Autism.
In 2002, special education expert, Debora Thivierge, started the ELIJA Foundation as a way to offer programs for people with Autism after searching for inclusive educational programs for her son.
“I wanted to learn and at the same time help other families as well,” Thivierge said. “I was very passionate about applied behavior analysis (a method of therapy that changes the environment in order to change a set or single behavior) as a form of treatment.”
The foundation has since then expanded to the ELIJA Farm and the ELIJA Transitional Program Services (TPS), a program that incorporates adult volunteers with autism in the productivity of the farm, in 2016.
School aged children and young adults with Autism help in all aspects of farming: preparation, production, harvesting and processing. The foundation has also been expanding the community classes they offer such as the culinary baking with a professional baker, creative arts and agricultural exploring that includes people with different abilities to come learn and enjoy themselves in a safe environment.
“Everything that we do is to promote inclusivity and awareness of Autism, while also providing an environment that is safe, healthy and which allows for growth of allmembers of the community,” Joy Dinkleman, CSA Harvest Manager said.
A 2015 study conducted by psychiatrist Vanessa Hus Bal from the University of California, showed that daily living skills (DLS) should be a focus of treatment plans for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) of all ages.
Day habilitation programs including habilitation farms and foundations help foster these daily living skills through a number of activities and events.
“It’s really about growth and integration. With integration it’s about getting [individuals with Autism] involved with other people and socializing, rather than just being home and with growth there’s opportunity for teaching and learning,” Mohja Macdowell, the program manager for two residential group homes in Dutchess County, New York, said. Members of the group home, ranging from 32 to 68 years old, participate in a day habilitation program and a community-centered recreational program, called, With Out Walls (WOW).
Family Residences and Essential Enterprises Inc. (FREE) provides services and support for over 4,000 individuals with mental disabilities, including housing, education services and employment located in Bethpage, Long Island. Skills Unlimited Inc., an affiliate of the FREE network is a specific program dedicated to rehabilitation and advance these life skills among those on the Autism Spectrum.
“Programs are specifically designed to foster independence, which is accomplished through comprehensive planning with the individual as an active participant. Ancillary services are also offered to enhance the opportunity to succeed,” Patrice Radowitz, FREE Public Relations Director, said.
ELIJA partners with a number of agencies and organizations including Life’s Worc, Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism (NSSA), Walt Whitman’s life skills high school class, and Rosalyn’s life skill high school class.
Life’s Worc is a group home that partners with ELIJA Farm where learners come to the farm everyday.
Having individuals interact and engage in activities at the farm is something that is beneficial for them while also providing them with a safe environment to learn, Brei Travalena, the program coordinator at Life’s Worc, said.
Nassau Suffolk Services for Autism has been partnering with the farm since its start three years ago in advocating for Autism awareness and providing resources to families of community members with Autism.
“With farming there’s working together as a group, getting dirty, tolerating different weather conditions, work effort,” Stacey Agosta, an ABA Therapist at NSSA, said. “Those are all sensory issues that people with Autism might have problems with so as you’re working on the farm you’re also working on those other skills.”
The ELIJA Farm also sells to a restaurant in Westbury called Rustic Root. Thomas Gloster, the restaurant’s head chef heard about the farm a year ago and what they were doing and wanted to work with them.
“Last year during the harvest season, 30 to 40 percent of our produce came from the farm” said Thomas Gloster, the restaurant’s head chef, last year while in season.
At the end of October, the farm plans to throw a Fall Festival to celebrate the end of the season and will be open to all community members and families of individuals with Autism to enjoy.