Natasha came to Heartspring at the age of eight. The average stay for a student at the Heartspring School is approximately three years. However, due to severe behavior issues, aggressions and poorly developed communication skills, it has taken more time for Natasha to learn independence skills. She is now preparing to transition to her home state and utilize the skills she has developed in her years at Heartspring.
One of the biggest challenges she faced upon arriving at Heartspring was her resistance to utilize communication tools and the lack of basic communication skills.
Verlene Warner, Natasha’s pre-vocational teacher remembers Natasha’s first year. She only had the ability to focus on any task for one minute at a time in the beginning. “We started with the basic picture cues to tell Natasha what needed to be done,” says Verlene. Behaviors were always an obstacle in the completion of the task, but consistency in communication proved to be the key to Natasha’s progress. It has taken several years, but now she has the ability to multi-task for up to 30 minutes and accepts changes to her daily schedule.
Verlene says, “The biggest success for Natasha was the appropriate use of materials in a task with decreased behaviors.”
Presently, Natasha can be found helping with the classroom laundry, shopping for the pre-vocational store, taking shredded paper to the local animal shelter and delivering aluminum cans to the recycling center.
According to classroom teacher June Kedrowski, Natasha has become more confident in her skills and works very hard at expanding her vocational ability.
Natasha’s hard work is paying off. Natasha now participates in the Vocational Training Program where she sorts balloons for a local balloon manufacturer and stuffs envelopes with efficiency and speed. Cheryl O’Brien, the school’s workshop teacher says, “Natasha does an awesome job.”
With Natasha’s increased communication skills her aggressive behaviors have decreased. She uses several different modes of communication now, a PECS (picture) book, sign language and some verbalization. She enjoys using her communication book and builds sentences to tell others about her day and what she wants to do next. As she has expanded on her ability to communicate, she is able to enjoy other accomplishments such as going out into the community to shop at the mall, take a trip to Wal-mart or shop at her favorite store, Dollar Tree.
Natasha is a hard worker and enjoys making people around her proud. This is evident in the daily tasks she completes in her group home: dusting, vacuuming and doing the dishes. Natasha has her routines and one of her favorites is going to all the staff in her group home and hugging them good night, kissing them on the check and signing, “I love you.” “She always wants to help,” says Rebecca Kuhlman, Natasha’s Home Coordinator.
Natasha still requires some assistance with life skills and she is working on learning to sort her laundry by colors. She is known to have quite a sense of humor, enjoys dancing and rocking and interaction with others.
Natasha has developed into an affectionate and fun young lady. Heartspring staff has seen her struggle and grow on the road to independence. It has taken her longer than most students and she still has skills to achieve, but her love of learning and personal interaction will take her far as she prepares to leave Heartspring and transition to a new chapter in her life.