Chatham School Opens New ABA Classroom for Students with Autism

The new ABA classroom continues to build a foundation of success for the growing number of students with autism.

When ECLC of New Jersey opened its first school for students with special needs in 1970, the children were mostly diagnosed with learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. Today, about one-third of ECLC’s nearly 300 students are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, and the numbers keep rising.

“As the student population has changed, our school has proactively addressed their needs,” said Chatham School Principal Jason Killian. “We are always looking for new ways to support our students and help them thrive.”

This year, ECLC’s Chatham school has opened a new classroom geared especially for students with autism, using a teaching method called ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis).

The school hired an ABA specialist, Taryn McLaughlin, who is excited to lead this new classroom. She explained how for some students, ABA is an excellent approach to learning, providing more focus and monitoring.

“ABA helps the students learn by closely tracking their achievements and understanding of specific skills,” said McLaughlin. “They get a lot more one-on-one time, which also helps keep the classroom calm and behaviors in order.”

The class has a high teacher-to-student ratio. There are three full-time students in the room and one student who spends part of his day there. The class is led by McLaughlin, and each student has a one-to-one para-professional aide.

The classroom will expand with more students, but it will remain a small, intimate setting. The plan is for these students to transition into the regular classrooms with their peers.

“This new class is a bridge to a less restrictive environment,” said Killian. “One of the great things about ECLC is we have decades of experience working with students who have different disabilities. That gives us more flexibility and creativity in our approach.”

Benefits of a New Sensory Room

The new ABA classroom continues to build a foundation of success for the growing number of students with autism.

Last year, the school opened a Sensory Room especially designed for students with autism and other disabilities with a behavioral component.

The Sensory Room is dimly lit when in use and quiet, calming music is played. A bubble tube light, with flowing bubbles and soft changing lights provides a multi-sensory calming environment.

The equipment is highly specialized. It includes a gentle “squeeze machine” that provides deep pressure, controlled by the student. A contour “relax” chair allows students to sit in a semi-reclined position on a soft surface. There is a hammock swing to offer slow, rhythmic swinging and a gentle squeeze. Students can climb into inflatable canoe-shaped seats, which provide a steady hugging pressure. Weighted blankets are gently placed on students to provide additional pressure.

Killian said, “We have found tremendous success with providing sensory breaks and sensory input to help students regulate and succeed in school.”

Parents of children with special needs and any member of the public can arrange for a visit and tour ECLC’s school at 21 Lum Ave., Chatham, by contacting Principal Killian at jkillian@eclcofnj.org or (973-601-5410).

ECLC of New Jersey Celebrates New Learning Opportunity for Students at Sorriso Kitchen!

It’s all in the family at Sorriso Kitchen! The parents of student LJ Bellas (far left) own this new eatery on Main Street in Chatham. They open it up every Monday exclusively to our students to learn new job skills. LJ’s mom, Karen (center), and dad Jimmy (not pictured) celebrated an official opening this week, with ECLC and Chatham Borough officials Councilman Thaddeus Kobylarz and Mayor Bruce Harris.

On Jan. 30, ECLC of New Jersey was excited to celebrate the official opening of Sorriso Kitchen, a new restaurant on Main Street in Chatham with more than just food on the menu.

Sorriso is owned by Karen and Jimmy Bellas, whose son LJ attends the ECLC Chatham school. They were inspired by LJ to use their new enterprise to help ECLC students with special needs.

Every Monday, they close Sorriso and open it up exclusively for ECLC students to spend a class there, learning job skills. They are also selling mugs, totes and cards with the Sorriso logo, printed by ECLC students in SKIL (Seeking Knowledge for Independent Living) class.

“This is such a wonderful opportunity for our students and our school to come here and use this beautiful space as a classroom where they can learn all the skills necessary for working in a food establishment,” said Principal Jason Killian. “It’s a tremendous sacrifice for Sorriso to close every Monday and open up to our students. We are truly grateful.”

At the opening, Karen and Jimmy Bellas described how the idea grew from a dinner table conversation into reality. “We wanted Sorriso to be a place where people could feel good and be happy because that’s how our boys make us feel and that’s exactly what it has turned into,” said Karen Bellas. “We get such joy out of seeing those kids come in on Mondays and put their aprons on. They give us their all! It warms our hearts.”

Sorriso Kitchen is just one business where ECLC students gain real-world, work experience. As part of their preparation to graduate, Upper School students move out into the community to “sample” jobs in child care, retail, maintenance, office administrative support and more. The Chatham community and surrounding towns have embraced the students, offering job-sampling sites, since the school opened 30 years ago in a former public school building. The goal is to prepare students for independent living and for a smooth transition from school to adulthood!

ECLC Hosts Community Safety Awareness Fair!

The ECLC school in Ho-Ho-Kus helped children get an A+ on safety this school year! Parents and other caregivers learned from experts, first-responders and others on how to keep children safe at ECLC of New Jersey’s Community Safety Awareness Fair on Sept. 29! The free event included:

The Ho-Ho-Kus Fire Department was just one of the community partners who supported the event.
  • Autism Speaks with information on keeping children with autism and other special needs out of harm’s way.
  • Ho-Ho-Kus Fire Department’s fire safety house, where children learn and practice what to do in the event of a fire.
  • The New Jersey Poison Control Center giving advice on how to treat a child who has eaten something toxic.
  • Ho-Ho-Kus Board of Health & North West Bergen Regional Health Commission helping to prepare residents for the winter season by giving flu shots from 10–11:30 a.m.
  • Bergen County Sheriff’s Gold Star ID Program offering a free photo ID Card for children with autism or developmental disabilities; and adults over the age of 65 with dementia. The Gold Star ID card provides first-responders with vital medical information in the event of an emergency or when an individual is not able to provide the information on their own.
  • Free Face painting and games for children to enjoy.
  • Certified Financial Services professionals with advice on avoiding financial pitfalls.

ECLC of New Jersey’s Special-Education School Receives Grant from Investors Bank

Investors Assistant Vice President and Chatham Branch Manager Gregory Schmidt (far right) presents ECLC with a big grant to support the school’s new Sensory Room.

ECLC of New Jersey’s Chatham school for students with special needs is grateful to receive a $1,500 grant from the Investors Foundation for a new Sensory Room to provide therapy for the growing number of students with autism.

“It was a great pleasure to personally see the great work and love given to the students of ECLC,” said Investors Assistant Vice President and Chatham Branch Manager Gregory Schmidt. “I was honored to be able to provide the Grant on behalf of Investors Bank and Investors Foundation.”

ECLC is celebrating its 30th year in a former Chatham public school building. During that time, the student population has dramatically changed, requiring new tools and techniques to support them. Three decades ago, ECLC students primarily were classified with learning disorders, such as dyslexia. Today, about one-third are diagnosed with autism or another disability with a behavioral component.

For students with autism and certain other disabilities, the everyday world at times can become overwhelming. Walking into a classroom might seem like walking into a crowded nightclub, with flashing lights and booming music. At any point in the day, students may start to feel overloaded and “dysregulated.” In contrast, there is another group of students who are “under-reactive.” These students need to increase their alertness and activity level to succeed at school.

The Sensory Room creates a new, permanent space to help students smooth out their emotional states. It creates an atmosphere of soothing calm and quiet. The room is a “Snoezelen Room” and delivers stimuli to various senses, using dim, lighting effects, color, gentle pressure, sounds, music, scents and vibration.

A therapist, teacher, or aide always accompanies students when they use the room. Students come to relax or take a break from class, when they are over-stimulated or during times of stress. They can also earn time in the room as part of their behavior plan. Each student has a customized list of activities and uses for the Sensory Room.

Benefits of a Sensory Room

The room is dimly lit when in use and quiet, calming music is played. A bubble tube light, with flowing bubbles and soft changing lights provides a multi-sensory calming environment. The equipment is highly specialized. It includes a gentle “squeeze machine” that provides deep pressure, controlled by the student. A contour “relax” chair allows students to sit in a semi-reclined position on a soft surface. There is a hammock swing to offer slow, rhythmic swinging and a gentle squeeze. Students can climb into inflatable canoe-shaped seats, which provide a steady hugging pressure. Weighted blankets are gently placed on students to provide additional pressure.

“As the student population has changed, our school has proactively addressed their needs,” said Principal Jason Killian. “We are always looking for new ways to support our students and help them thrive. We have found tremendous success with providing sensory breaks and sensory input to help students regulate and succeed in school.”

Parents of children with special needs and any member of the public can arrange for a visit and tour ECLC’s school at 21 Lum Ave., by contacting Principal Killian at jkillian@eclcofnj.org or (973-601-5410).

ECLC Graduates 36 Special Needs Students

Marcelle Matos, Brendan Ryan and Nicole Serkin were among this year’s Chatham school graduates!

ECLC of New Jersey graduated 36 students with special needs from the Chatham and Ho-Ho-Kus schools last week.

The young adults received high school diplomas conferred by their hometown districts. During the Chatham school commencement ceremony, each graduate was given an opportunity to speak and deliver his or her “reflections,” a school tradition for many years.

In his short speech, Marcello Matos said, “I have had so many good experiences at ECLC that have prepared me for life after graduation. I want to thank my family for all they do for me.” Nicole Serkin said how much she loved her family, art and gym classes. Brendan Ryan said, “I have enjoyed going on respite trips, talking to my friends, dancing at the socials and going on trips to the mall and bowling alley.”

Ryan and Serkin, and a number of their classmates, will stay in the ECLC family by entering the PRIDE Adult Program. PRIDE is for ECLC alumni who are not good candidates for work because of the nature of their disability. More than 160 adults are enrolled in ECLC’s PRIDE Centers in Florham Park and Paramus. Matos, like some other grads, plans to pursue employment.

All ECLC students graduate with a clear plan for their future. For graduates who are able to work, ECLC offers employment services through an affiliate, Community Personnel Services (CPS). Specialists from CPS help graduates find meaningful jobs in their communities and provide ongoing support and advocacy in the workplace. ECLC enables people with disabilities to live as independently as possible.

Graduates who enter the PRIDE Program spend meaningful days continuing to learn and grow. The adults in PRIDE choose their schedule, from a wide range of options, including fitness, computers, book club, food shopping and cooking, fine arts and more. They also venture out into the community each day for volunteering, field trips and other activities. The program is open exclusively to ECLC graduates of any age and for as long as needed.