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An 'Experience' for intellectually disabled adults

Day program puts focus on verbal skills
By: Gloria Beverage, Placer Herald Editor
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A lack of verbal skills is often the root of out-of-control behavior in individuals with intellectual disabilities, believes Adriene Gaudet, a licensed speech/language pathologist and founder of Adult Day Experiences in Rocklin. In the 15 years she worked with agencies serving individuals with intellectual disabilities, Gaudet found that clients weren’t making much progress in developing verbal skills. “I wanted to do something different,” Gaudet said. “I decided to open my own program to focus on each individual’s communication abilities and needs.” In the two years since opening the doors to Adult Day Experiences on Warren Drive, Gaudet and her team have delighted in the success of their students. “We’ve seen progress in every single person that has been here,” she said. “It’s a testament to the team’s focus on communication.” Although it’s a traditional day program with social, recreation and community-based activities, Gaudet has fashioned a curriculum that capitalizes on “teachable moments.” “We accept people with all kinds of disorders. These are people with intellectual disabilities – from autistics to Down Syndrome to Cerebral Palsy,” she said. “Most live at home with their families. Some live in group care homes. The youngest is 20 and the oldest is 65.” A variety of resources are used in the classroom – sign language and speech devices – to encourage clients to communicate. In the case of one client, who speaks Spanish, staff uses a phone app to translate her words. “We teach consumers to communicate to the best of their abilities – using whatever method is most effective,” she said. Gaudet points to the dramatic change in one client, who was easily frustrated and distracted when he first started attending the program. “He wouldn’t listen. It was hard for him to communicate. He knew three or fur signs,” she said. “Today he follows through. He uses lot more complex signs. You don’t see getting as frustrated as often.” Susan Ketchum, the mother of a 23-year-old non-verbal autistic, writes that her son has “soared” since he began attending the school. “Mark has been in special education since he was 2-1/2 years old,” Ketchum said. “This is the first program that truly focuses on verbal skills. They teach in a small group setting with a specialized teacher for each group. Even the games they play teach verbal skills. It is the best program he has ever attended.” Eileen Niedzinski has also seen tremendous growth in her 41-year-old daughter, who began attending the school after the family moved from New Jersey six months ago. “She’s doing math and is able to read from the newspaper. That didn’t happen six months ago,” Niedzinski said. “Our past experience with programs was simply babysitting. Through the years she has learned, but she can still learn with the right direction. Now she wants to go and do things.” And students attending Adult Day Experiences get plenty of opportunities to go places. At the monthly planning committee meetings, staff and clients plan weekly trips. Favorite outings are bowling, shopping at thrift stores or K-Mart or visiting Folsom Zoo. “We also work on money – budgeting and spending what they have for outings,” she said. There’s also an emphasis on healthy choices, including cooking classes and daily walks around the complex. “We don’t miss our chances to use every appropriate circumstance for ‘teachable moments’ in terms of improving an individual’s communication skills,” she said. In keeping with her other goal of teaching self-advocacy, Gaudet has expanded the program to offer vocational training. “We want them to learn how to be independent and make informed decisions,” she explained. Currently, they have a small contract with Gold Country Media to shred confidential papers and prepare newspapers for delivery once a week. Rocklin resident Pat Linn’s son, 40-year-old P.J., was the first student accepted into the program. “When he comes home, it’s all he talks about,” she said. “I like what they do for the kids – cooking classes and different things.” P.J. is also fond of Gaudet’s two-year-old Brittany spaniel, who has captured the hearts of everyone at the school. “She helps to motivate them,” Gaudet said. “They like to come in (to my office) and give her water or pet her. She calms down some of the clients when they’re having a bad day.” While the current location is licensed for 30 clients, Gaudet has hopes for opening a second facility. Her wish list for the program includes an outdoor area, more computers, storage space and additional vans to transport clients as well as volunteers. “I think (the program) is pretty solid,” she said. “Everybody has come in at exactly the right time with the right skills. We work well as a team. I can see something special about every single person here.” Gaudet acknowledges that she wouldn’t have been able to build this program without the support of her husband and 12-year-old twin boys. “It’s hard not to be happy here,” Gaudet concluded. “It is a gift every day. I never expected my life experiences to lead me here. I feel like I’m missing all the fun when I’m not here. This fulfills me.” ________ Good to Know: Adult Day Experiences Where: 2510 Warren Dr., Suite A, Rocklin Phone: (916) 632-2332 Website: www.adexperiences. com