The Kinney Center for Autism Education and Support at Saint Joseph’s University (SJU) is transforming outcomes for individuals impacted by autism through a two-fold mission to educate and train the autism professionals of tomorrow, while supporting and serving the individuals and their families affected by autism today.
The Kinney Center has expanded rapidly since its founding in 2009. Fueled by strong demand for evidence-based behavioral health services for individuals with autism, it now serves over 800 individuals each year at all stages of the lifecycle while training 105 SJU undergraduates through the SCHOLARS program.
The SCHOLARS program prepares future professionals to have an immediate impact in the field of autism through 40 hours of annual summer classroom training and 20 hours of additional training throughout the year on the principles of applied behavior analysis (ABA) consistent with the of the Behavior Analyst Certification Board (BACB)’s Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) Task List, autism spectrum disorders, classroom management tools, behavior protocols, CPR/First Aid, ad crisis prevention/intervention techniques. Three Board Certified Behavior Analysts led all trainings. SCHOLARS receive hands-on training supporting individuals with autism age 3 to 60 in Kinney Center programs, acquiring over 2,000 hours of professional experience by their college graduation.
The SCHOLARS program provides an effective vehicle to deliver high quality behavioral health services to individuals with autism in a cost-effective manner, allowing the Kinney Center to employ a direct care staff that is both less expensive and better trained than the current direct care staff at other behavioral health providers. The hours and scope of training that SCHOLARS receive far exceeds state regulations and level of training direct care staff receive from most other service providers in Pennsylvania, resulting in the best possible outcomes for individuals with autism.
Kinney SCHOLARS receive extensive training in ABA and apply ABA in all client interactions. They plan and implement appropriate lessons; monitor participants’ progress; record and analyze data; assist with assessments; and provide 1:1 support for all learners. After completing 40 hours of initial classroom training, SCHOLARS assist with all Center programs with weekly supervision by a BCBA via direct observation.
The Kinney Center’s intensive training and supervision model can easily be emulated and implemented by other service providers and allows the Kinney Center to customize the application of ABA for each learner in Center programs. SCHOLARS receive supervision and training from three full-time, highly skilled staff members who are Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBA) with extensive experience and masters level degrees in a related field.
These staff members partner with Dr. Michelle Rowe, Academic Executive Director at the Kinney Center, licensed psychologist, and Professor of Health Services at SJU, to develop and implement the initial SCHOLARS training curriculum as well as two hours of weekly continuing training sessions. During the weekly sessions, SCHOLARS obtain feedback on how to more effectively apply the principles of ABA to each individual, allowing them to modify lesson plans to goals as needed for each individual. This results in highly individualized services for all learners.
The SCHOLARS program is sustainable and has established relationships with school districts and service providers. The Kinney Center partners with Philadelphia, Upper Darby, Radnor, Tredyffrin Easttown, Lower Merion, and Swarthmore-Wallingford School Districts who pay for the Center to provide transitional/day services and extended school year services for students with autism. Because of the SCHOLARS program, the Kinney Center’s services are affordable and more effective than school district’s own services at addressing the unique development needs required by students with autism.
Additionally, service providers including Bancroft, Deveraux, and Melmark and school districts have expressed a strong interest in hiring SCHOLARS for full-time positions.
The SCHOLARS program makes the Kinney Center’s outstanding services financially sustainable. SCHOLARS earn between $7 and $9 per hour wage based on their years of service and performance evaluation. Since they are in a training program, they earn less than direct care staff at other service providers.
The SCHOLARS program has potential for replication by universities teac hing paraprofessionals how to interact more effectively with individuals with autism through the SCHOLARS training manual’s dissemination. While many universities offer resources for autism and training programs, the Kinney Center is the only autism center that fully integrates its training program into behavioral health services.
Based on the principles of ABA, the SCHOLARS training manual provides 40 hours of training that incorporates lectures, role playing, and modeling behavior with beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. Paraprofessionals learn to apply ABA in a way that recognizes each person’s unique strengths and needs. Additionally, the manual teaches paraprofessionals to collaborate with parents and staff for the best possible outcomes for each person with autism. By the time they complete the advanced level curriculum, students in the SCHOLARS programwill have received 240 hours of classroom training across 4 years of their undergraduate program .
The Kinney Center measures the SCHOLARS program’s effectiveness by the percent of SCHOLARS alumni pursuing a field of study related to autism in graduate school or are employed in a related position. The goal is 80 percent of SCHOALRS will be in a related field of study or work. Currently over 95 percent of SCHOLARS alumni have met this benchmark, significantly higher than the goal.
Additionally, the Center measures the SCHOLARS program’s performance through the progress of learners with autism towards measurable skills. Their progress demonstrates the effectiveness of SCHOLARS in employing multiple strategies and problem solving to help learners make progress towards behavioral skills.
The Kinney Center is proud that 99 percent of 292 learners in social skills, recreation, independent living, and job skills programs in 2014 made measurable progress towards skills. This exceptionally strong outcome directly reflects the effectiveness of the SCHOLARS training program.