Kahlon Family Services > Uncategorized > Interview with Amy Fitzgerald

Interview with Amy Fitzgerald

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Amy Fitzgerald is the Director of Program Development and Education Support at Kahlon Family Services. Because she has over a decade of experience working with children of all ages and developmental stages, we have interviewed her this week about her work.
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Tell us a bit about what you do
I work as a Behavior Specialist in various capacities, with clients all over the Bay Area. At Kahlon Family Services we have chosen not to have an office location on purpose, because we value working with children in their everyday environments. I work in homes, schools and out in the community, teaching kids to be aware of their environment and to react to the world around them in socially appropriate ways.

How do you help children understand their environment? 
The ability to observe a situation and respond appropriately is something that most people take for granted. Many children on the Autism spectrum have a hard time understanding the world that exists outside of their own mind, so our job is to observe for them and share these observations with the child. For example, when we take kids with social differences out to a coffee shop, we will observe that there may not be any tables left or that our favorite pastry might be sold out. We will observe that the people in front and behind us in the line need personal space, and we will know not to talk to somebody who looks like they want to be left alone. We use these observations to show the child what is happening, and coach them through socially appropriate responses to their environment.

How do you do this in schools? 
Children with social learning delays have a hard time dealing with their peers. We help kids by making them aware of the energy level in the classroom and coaching them to match the environment. In the playground, we help kids join a group by first observing what is going on – then making a plan for joining the group. Basically, we externalize the processes that go on inside our heads before we do something.

Can these skills be taught? 
I believe they can be. For people on the Autism spectrum, social skills will never be automatic, but like anything – the more you practice the better you get. If someone learns social skills by rote, they have still learned the skill. Early intervention really helps with preparing a child for life.

When should a parent seek professional help for their child? 
If your child has received an Autism diagnosis, we recommend that you have an early intervention team with professionals such as Occupational Therapists and Behavior Specialists. Most children, however, do not have an official diagnosis. If you suspect that your child has delays in social development, you have nothing to lose by contacting a professional. Taking your child to a developmental pediatrician, occupational therapist and behavior specialist will give you some piece of mind about the road ahead for your family.

What advice can you give to parents? 
Don’t wait! The formative years are between 0-8yrs, and early intervention is key to setting your child up for success. No intervention is unnecessary. Also, if you have an older child who hasn’t received an early intervention, start the intervention now. Any progress is amazing, and will help your entire family function and enjoy each other’s company.

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