This week I had the pleasure of interviewing Mary Garlington about her work as a supervisor of a classroom for children with neurological disorders. She is an Occupational Therapist as well as an RDI Certifed Program Consultant. I enjoyed learning about her practical and meaningful solutions for classrooms.
Hi Mary, can you tell us about your role in the school that you currently work at?
I am an Occupational Therapist & RDI Certified Consultant at Pediatrics Plus. I also supervise the ASD classroom at Pediatrics Plus Developmental Preschool in Conway. As part of being supervisor of this classroom, I am responsible for planning & implementing monthly group parent trainings as well as leading monthly individual parent meetings. As an occupational therapist, I work one-on-one with the 8 children in the classroom based on their individual deficits as defined by standardized testing and clinical opinion. I also do educational presentations on ASD around the central Arkansas area.
Do you mainly work with children, teachers or parents?
I would say I work with these three in equal parts. The ASD classroom team consists of 3 teachers, a speech-language pathologist, a second occupational therapist, & myself. As a team we meet twice weekly to discuss challenges, successes, lesson plans, and focus areas. This classroom has a high emphasis on parent education & involvement. I spend approximately 10-15 hours monthly in face to face meetings with parents of the children in the classroom. I spend about 9-15 hours/week in one-one time with the children, depending on their individual therapy needs as well as other classroom needs that are separate from their actual therapy needs.
Are there any tips you can give teachers to help with smoother transitions? (from one activity to another)
Singing! We sing during every transition. Of course, these are preschoolers, so singing is a huge part of their day. We make sure the songs are rhythmical in nature & we sing them slowly. Singing quickly increases arousal level, which in turn increases anxiety, in my experience, for some children on the spectrum. We also have a very structured day as needed for decreasing the children’s overall stress and anxiety. Each child has their own visual schedule, which assists with the transitions required throughout the day. However, in order to maintain an element of uncertainty within such a structured day, we create many opportunities for teachers & therapists to incorporate little, novel surprises in all areas. A simple example is stopping a song midway through or stopping suddenly while marching down hallways.
What is your most frequently asked question, and how do you answer it?
My most frequently asked question is: “How do I get this child to look at me?” The first thing I do is educate that eye contact should not our end goal. I explain the process of making the child an active decision maker, which includes the child actively shifting his gaze to the adult. By shifting our thought process about why the child is or isn’t looking at us changes the way we approach working with that child. By creating a situation where the child can become an active decision maker, we automatically will not be worried about whether the child is looking at us. We’ll then be concerned with how to help him choose to look our way. As the adult working with the child, we must be creative in order to think of ways to assist that child in becoming a decision maker. This can be a simple as passing a puzzle piece to the child, but on the third or fourth pass it accidentally gets stuck in your hand. The child then becomes an active decision maker as he looks up to reference you in order to find out why the puzzle piece is not being passed as it had the previous 2-3 times. Another, more extreme example that I’ve witnessed happening is a co-worker went as far as falling out on the floor suddenly to have a very avoidant child shift his gaze towards her. Guess what? It worked! 🙂 I typically use a lot of para-language (sighs, laugh, gasps, etc) to assist in creating situations for the child to share eye gaze with me.
Along with RDI what are the main educational goals for the children who graduate your school?
For the children in our ASD program, we focus on their social and emotional growth. In our experience, these children are, for the majority, cognitively ready for kindergarten. However, socially and emotionally they are still very delayed. For this reason, we focus our intervention process on these specific deficit areas in addition to the RDI work we do with them inside and outside of the classroom. We are always striving to create active decision makers in all areas, not just eye gaze.
Mary Garlington earned her Masters Degree in occupational therapy in 2007 at the University of Central Arkansas. After graduation, she began working as an OT at Pediatrics Plus, an outpatient therapy clinic and developmental preschool. Through this work she developed a passion for working with children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnosis. When the developmental preschool piloted an ASD classroom in 2011, she joined the team in the OT role. Since that time, Mary has become RDI certified and is now supervisor of the ASD classroom at Pediatrics Plus Developmental Preschool in Conway. As part of her job duties, she consults with families, teachers, occupational and physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists. Outside of her professional life, she loves spending as much time as possible with her husband of eight years and their two little boys, ages four and four months.