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“We Need To Expand Teacher Training Programs That Teach About The Autism Spectrum” With Dr. Amy Davies Lackey

…Expanding services for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities.


…Expanding services for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities. With one in every 68 children being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, this is a growing population. The higher the quality of education and support services that we provide at an early age, the more independent these students will be as they reach adulthood. Funding for these programs is critical.

Expanding teacher training programs that focus on severe learning and behavior disorders. The autism spectrum is just that- a spectrum, which means that there are many individuals with vastly different repertories and skills sets. We continue to need teachers have the appropriate training and experience to work directly with individuals with intensive learning and behavior challenges. Having an appropriate education can make all the difference for students who demonstrate these challenges in being able to participate in their community, family life and even to gain and sustain employment.

Expanding support programs to families of students with autism and related disabilities. Another area of critical need is the provision of parent education and respite programs for families. As the population of students with autism has expanded, families need education and respite opportunities so that they have the training to support their child beyond the school doors- whether in the evenings, on weekends, holidays or even into adulthood. Providing these resources proactively will allow students to better access activities of family and community life more independently.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Amy Davies Lackey. She is the Director of Education at Manhattan Childrens Center and has worked with students and adults with severe disabilities in NYC and Westchester County. She has also served as an adjunct professor of special education at several NY universities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

I started my career in South Carolina. During my first master’s degree, I worked as an evaluator and later as a teacher at the South Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice. In that role, I worked with 16–18-year-old students who were incarcerated and also classified as having a disability. It was there that I became interested in applied behavior analysis- I knew there was a better way to manage problem behavior. Many of the students in that setting had come from environmental situations that you couldn’t imagine in your worst nightmares. Changing their behaviors (and they weren’t going to be forced to do so) was rewarding, and I wanted to expand my knowledge of how to continue to do that better. From there, I came to NYC to complete my Ph.D. at Columbia University Teachers College. There I began working with students on the autism spectrum and with related disabilities. Over the years in NY, I have worked as a teacher, parent educator, school principal and Chief Executive Officer with students and families from early intervention all the way up to adulthood. I have found each and every group that I have worked with to be incredibly rewarding and have only strengthened my love of the field.


Can you tell me about the most interesting projects you are working on now? 

We are continuing to evolve our curriculum and adjust as the needs of our students and families change. With over 125 students in our school ages 5- 18, we see firsthand the critical need in the special education world is programming for middle and high school-aged students. We are working to expand our upper school to include a facility that will offer increased opportunities for our students to learn academically, hone their life skills and improve their job skills. In addition, we are working to create a stronger partnership among those families with special needs and the world in which they live. This year we launched the MCC First Responder Partnership Program. Created in collaboration with the New York Police Department’s Neighborhood Policing Precinct on the Upper West, the MCC First Responder Partnership Program creates a greater understanding between those with ASD and first responders so that when interactions in the community do occur, they are positive. With 1 in every 59 children being diagnosed with ASD, these children, and soon to be adults, are integral members of our community. MCC’s First Responder Partnership Program is essential on many fronts as it helps with those ASD better understand the role of the first responder and first responders about ASD behaviors. Also, as with all of MCC’s community-based programs, the First Responder Partnership Program emphasizes the importance of educating those in our local communities about ASD so that it extends far beyond simple “awareness.”


So how exactly does your organization help people?

 MCC is unique in that we work with a student on the autism spectrum who present with learning and behavior challenges that supersede most special education classrooms. Our behavior analysts, speech pathologists, and occupational therapists work hand-in-hand to address the global deficits of our students. In addition to working with students, we work with families, parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles on how their loved ones, our students grow up to be the best who they can be. At our last seeds of hope gala, a parent said, MCC sees our children’s strengths and helps educate them accordingly.


Can you tell me a story about a person that you helped?

 At MCC, we view education from a whole-environment approach. The education we provide to students simply cannot end with the school day. A few years ago, I worked closely with a family whose daughter had autism and glaucoma. The daughter had already lost sight in one eye, and her eyesight in the other eye was deteriorating. I worked with the classroom teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist and the family to address a number of issues- the student eating solid foods, being toilet trained, sleeping at night and being able to transition to different places in the community without being transported in a stroller. As the parents worked tirelessly to learn strategies that we recommended, the idea of a family vacation to Walt Disney World arose. They wanted to be able to take a trip as a family and before her eyesight diminished. We worked as a team to prepare the family, the student, the TSA, the airline and structure their time in the park so that the student would be successful. The trip was perfect. While a family vacation might not seem that important, the quality of life for everyone was- without training and working together; this amazing family memory would never have happened.


This obviously is not easy work. What drives you? 

The successes of the students and families I work with drives me. Sometimes the size of those successes varies- it can be the tiniest step or the most monumental task, but it is a success all the same. The other piece that drives me is working at a wonderful school like MCC. While the behaviors our students engage in can be challenging, feeling appreciated and supported by your employer makes all the difference.


Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

1. Expanding services for individuals with autism and developmental disabilities. With one in every 68 children being diagnosed on the autism spectrum, this is a growing population. The higher the quality of education and support services that we provide at an early age, the more independent these students will be as they reach adulthood. Funding for these programs is critical.

2. Expanding teacher training programs that focus on severe learning and behavior disorders. The autism spectrum is just that- a spectrum, which means that there are many individuals with vastly different repertories and skills sets. We continue to need teachers have the appropriate training and experience to work directly with individuals with intensive learning and behavior challenges. Having an appropriate education can make all the difference for students who demonstrate these challenges in being able to participate in their community, family life and even to gain and sustain employment.

3. Expanding support programs to families of students with autism and related disabilities. Another area of critical need is the provision of parent education and respite programs for families. As the population of students with autism has expanded, families need education and respite opportunities so that they have the training to support their child beyond the school doors- whether in the evenings, on weekends, holidays or even into adulthood. Providing these resources proactively will allow students to better access activities of family and community life more independently.


None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? 

Dr. Janet Twyman was an amazing mentor to me. She was both a professor at Columbia University Teachers College and was my direct supervisor at the Fred S. Keller School in Yonkers when I first moved to NYC. What made her a remarkable mentor was that rather than just answering questions, she taught me how to find answers. It made me more independent and resourceful which has carried me through my career. To this day, I strive to do the same for my supervisees.


What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. “You will figure this out.” Early in my career, it was easy to be overwhelmed by trying to problem solve the challenging behaviors of our students. My focus and resolve improved over the years and the “deep breath” moment of knowing I could solve any challenge that came my way with a little persistence.

2. “Your role will include sometimes playing the part of special educator, leader, social worker, therapist, and confidant.” No one enters parenthood thinking that he or she will need to become a teacher, therapist or have to educate themselves about special education law. These are; however, the roles parents often play when they have a child with special needs. As a professional in this field, your role shifts and changes depending on the supports that families and children need- and often that involves wearing many hats.


3. “Being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is essential in this role.” No matter what the issue or concern, it is essential to engage in some level of perspective taking. Parents of special needs students face a number of challenges every day, so some days it’s critical to hit the pause button and take into consideration all of these environmental and emotional factors that come into play so that you can engage in active listening and truly hear what a parent is saying to you.

4. “You should always feel that there is more for you to learn about your field.” Pedagogy is always evolving, as should our knowledge about the field of special education. Being open to learning new strategies, methodologies and approaches help us refine our knowledge and combine this knowledge to serve our learners best.

5. “You will meet some of the most wonderful parents, students, and educators during the course of your career.” Over the years, I have met both students and parents who were some of the most determined people in the world- whether through advocacy, knowing what their child needed, or their strength to learn and progress. They have taught me many things about finding your voice and making it heard.


Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see just see this. 🙂

Our goal is to educate students until they are grown. We are looking to expand upon our upper school while continuing to build our lower school. I would love to have breakfast with passionate individuals who share our vision.

Originally published at medium.com

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