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"Who" Cares ? - Katelynn Kahlke-Beyea

Katelynn“Reading facial expressions is crucial when interacting with people who have communication challenges,” says The Arc Rockland Direct Support Professional Katelynn Kahlke-Beyea. She works with six adults, ages 21-32. Most have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

“The people in this group may not be typical in terms of their development. Their level of understanding may not be at age level, but helping them make progress, learn new things, do something others thought they would never be able to do—that’s pretty awesome.

“For example, we have cards with the picture and word for essential needs such as: drink, eat, go for a walk. When an individual points to the appropriate card, I have him or her give it to another staff member who will make sure that need is met. If the person points to the wrong card, that person will get something that he or she doesn’t want and will try again. That is how learning takes place.”

Ms. Kahlke-Beyea notes that the smile on the face of someone who has achieved success in communicating a want or a need is a reward for both the individual and for her.

The use of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) has recently begun being implemented, utilizing a Speech/Language application, via iPad, to promote functional communication. “Some of the younger participants in the group have had prior experience using the program in school,” comments Ms. Kahlke-Beyea. She notes that it will take some time to teach those unfamiliar with the device to use it. But once they master it, their ability to communicate will be significantly improved.

Turning unusual or inappropriate behavior into meaningful and appropriate behavior is also part of the learning process. “One woman in the group loves beads. She likes to hold them, carry them around, keep them in her pockets. I convinced her to wear the beads instead—which is a more appropriate use.” Sometimes, a much enjoyed item or activity becomes a reward for a job well done — “for following directions or helping out in the classroom, for example,” says Ms. Kahlke -Beyea. Appropriate behavior in one arena spills over into other areas of life. “The woman who loves beads used to run up to people and hug them as a way of greeting. Now she has learned to say ‘Hi,’ wave, and ask permission before taking someone’s hand. She’s making great progress.”

Some of the people with whom Ms. Kahlke-Beyea works occasionally put non-edible materials in their mouths. To avoid such problems while fostering creativity, she has made play dough out of marshmallows and paint out of edible ingredients. She encourages members of the group to work as a team — engaging in easy cooking activities, cleaning tables, drying dishes, listening and responding to a book being read aloud. To teach sequencing, she reviews the seasons of the year, or which item of clothing to put on first when getting dressed. “I try to make the lessons age appropriate and functional.”

“Katelynn is on target in being able to identify each person’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Anthony Pavlacka, Director of Autism Services at The Arc Rockland. “She is excellent at coming up with stimulating and engaging interactive options and learning opportunities.”

Armed with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling from West Chester University of Pennsylvania, Ms. Kahlke-Beyea worked with preschool and elementary age children with developmental disabilities before coming to The Arc. “I’ve worked in an office job, but it’s not for me,” she says. “At the end of the day, I want to work directly with people and help improve their quality of life.

“Hearing the parents’ feedback, that they’re happy with what’s happening with their adult sons and daughters, that’s a great bonus,” she adds. “They’ve been living with these individuals for so many years, and now they can see a positive difference."

Thank You to ARC of Rockland’s 2018 Corporate Sponsors: