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The Journey to Success: A Team Approach

Written by Alyssa Kastner, Development and Communications Intern

Contributions from: Kate Merrill, Board Certified Behavioral Analyst; Maley Mullin, Clinician; Jane Daniels, Teacher; and Jenn Cofer, Teacher

To uphold the confidentiality of the student, they will be referred to as “Sam” throughout this blog post.

COMPASS staff value highlighting students’ positive experiences at the School, and one student’s progress stands out as exemplary. When Sam first started attending the School, they refused to engage in academic and clinical work, had trouble trusting adults, and consistently used profane language. Sam often reacted aggressively to any triggers, threw furniture at classmates, trashed spaces, and spoke disrespectfully to anyone that tried to initiate a conversation, making it challenging for staff to get Sam to engage with them.

After identifying this difficult attitude, Sam’s Clinician, Maley Mullin, had to strategize new techniques to get Sam to engage with her. When Maley went to get Sam for their weekly meetings, Sam refused to talk with her. In response, Maley decided to take a different approach, telling Sam that she would wait outside the classroom for 3 minutes and that Sam could decide whether to work with her or not. After giving Sam this option for a while, they finally decided to accept the help and, according to Maley, “this was a major turning point” in Sam’s experience.

Since then, Sam has learned to use more positive techniques to deal with stress-inducing situations and takes an active role in and out of the classroom. Sam’s teachers Jane Daniels and Jenn Cofer describe Sam as an outspoken, charismatic, friend to their peers. According to Behavioral Analyst Kate Merrill, Sam has developed into a thoughtful, mature, and motivated student. Sam’s Clinician Maley now considers them “a pleasure to work with,” showing a major shift in their interactions from the beginning of Sam’s time at COMPASS.

Sam now engages in positive behavior on a daily basis and has become more skilled at taking space when necessary. Sam has also developed a profound sense of respect for the adults at the School. For example, when the class experienced a conflict that they tried and failed to resolve on their own, Sam suggested, “let’s get Maley – I know she can help!” In addition to exhibiting healthy strategies in coping with conflict, Sam has also grown out of being impressionable and into being a leader. Sam once convinced peers to join a dance group and was so persuasive that the peers even agreed to give up their Friday afternoon game time to attend rehearsals. Another time, when Jenn and Jane were away, Sam was given ‘teacher helper’ tasks to help the substitute. According to Kate, when Sam was giving out candy to those waiting appropriately for dismissal, Sam said to a peer, “great job taking just one,” following their teachers’ strategies of rewarding positive behavior.

Another role that Sam has taken in the School is that of a mentor and a friend. They have a peer who has been working on his social skills and who others treat unkindly. Sam stands by him, which Sam often does for peers that others find difficult to deal with. Sam has also taken a mentorship role to a young girl, often asking to visit her, read with her and talk to her, and even helps calm her down when she is having an issue. According to Maley, Sam is “very thoughtful about other people in a way that’s really mature,” and consistently makes an effort to write personalized cards for staff on holidays and birthdays.

Sam is often seen in the hallways going above and beyond to greet staff around the school, giving out handshakes and hugs. Bringing staff closer instead of pushing them away, Sam has reached a level of comfort at COMPASS that took a while to develop but that has been crucial to their development. According to Maley, “seeing such a significant growth over the course of the year makes me know that things are working.” She adds, “Sometimes growth can take a long time, but Sam’s rapid progress has been a great example for classmates to follow.”


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