The Community School of Maryland is distinguished by the psychological services provided to the students. Psychologists with expertise in autism work with school faculty to develop individualized behavior intervention plans based on functional assessments. Plans target areas of need and challenge. Teachers meet with psychologists weekly to review progress and make necessary adjustments to behavior intervention plans. Specialists are employed to observe staff as they implement behavior programs and provide additional training for staff to ensure consistency. The Community School staff strives to help students become integrated members of their community. Special education teachers, along with the Director of Education and the Director of Residential Services, work collaboratively to ensure consistent program implementation across all environments. Parents are provided data graphs on a monthly basis that depict trends in their child’s behavioral improvement over time. Our team works to minimize maladaptive behaviors, and teach students alternative behaviors and appropriate methods of communicating, allowing them to be contributing members to the community.
CSM’s occupational therapy services provide students with a complex of multi-modal experiences designed to augment their CSM education. Occupational therapy at CSM addresses physical, psychological, social and environmental factors affecting independent function in all aspects of life. Therapists target fine and gross motor development, sensory modulation, self-regulation, and daily living skills. Traditional occupational therapy services are combined with specialized group therapy through non-traditional modalities. Group therapy is interjected into an adaptive physical educational program and a therapeutic horseback riding program.
Speech and Language Therapy
The Community School of Maryland provides an array of Speech-Language services to students with the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. There is a strong emphasis on total communication which includes, but is not limited to, the use of verbal language, Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), assistive technology and sign language. The Speech-Language Pathology team works closely with the classroom teachers and assistants for each student. Each student’s needs are addressed individually, and services are performed in an array of settings which can include the classroom, therapy rooms, and/or the community. Speech therapy is provided in individual or group settings as mandated through the student’s IEP. In order to maximize effectiveness and generalization, speech and language services are also provided within the context of other educational services and experiences.
Adaptive Physical Education
Students at The Community School of Maryland participate in an adaptive physical education program developed and implemented by our Occupational Therapist. Students complete structured warm-up activities and then work on the fundamental skills required to participate in a variety of sports. As the students participate in Physical Education, they are also working to improve their postural control, body awareness, mobility, self-esteem and motor planning. Participation improves a variety of related skills, including visually attending to a task, learning to follow directions and peer group interaction in a safe environment while promoting a healthy lifestyle through exercise.
Hippotherapy (Therapeutic Horseback Riding)
CSM students participate in horseback riding groups that take place at stables conveniently located less than a mile from the CSM campus. The program is supervised by one of the stable’s staff experienced in working with students with autism, as well as our occupational therapist. Horseback riding, or hippotherapy, facilitates the rider’s vestibular and proprioceptive system by enhancing balance, equilibrium and postural responses to movement, muscle strength, coordination and body awareness. Being exposed to and learning to ride a large, powerful animal also offers our students a unique opportunity to develop self-confidence as they learn how to control the horse’s movement.
4-H and School Based Gardening Program
The Montgomery County 4-H program has partnered with the Community School of Maryland for many years to provide students an opportunity to participate in 4-H activities. Our elementary school program participates in a gardening program from late Spring to early Fall with the Master Gardeners of Montgomery County, where they plant, water and pick numerous types of vegetables. The students learn to nurture crops and also learn about the many uses for them. The program culminates with several students competing for ribbons at the Montgomery County Fair for vegetable entries they submit.
CSM also provides gardening opportunities for our middle and high school age students. Our campus contains an expansive garden area, where students are given the opportunity to plant a variety of plants including flowers, fruits and vegetables. Students are taught to maintain the garden by weeding, and watering the plants on a regular basis. As the plants begin to grow, students harvest the vegetables which can then be used in their weekly cooking lessons with their classroom. Watching food go from seeds to the table, makes this a completely functional process and teaches students a valuable skill they can carry with them throughout life.
Studies have shown that the inclusion of music programming in the school setting leads to increased achievement in schools. Music also offers therapeutic qualities to many students with autism. At CSM, students are provided structured music classes on a weekly basis. During music class, students are exposed to a variety of percussion, string and electronic instruments, and given the opportunity to play them. With the guidance of their teachers, students work on playing fast and slow tempos, and practice copying a rhythm.
CSM encourages parental involvement throughout the course of the school year. Events are held at the school for parents, such guest speakers who discuss relevant topics related to special education. Parents are able to meet with their child’s teacher to discuss their child’s performance and how to transfer what their children are learning in school to their home environment. Regular communication between parents and teachers are encouraged including email, telephone and visits. Parents are an integral part of the Individual Education Plan process.
Students who are in need of residential services can benefit from CSAAC’s residential program. CSAAC operates group homes throughout the Montgomery County. These homes are located within communities and provide ample opportunities for the person to be involved in their community. Students living in our residential program benefit from 24 hour supports provided by highly trained staff. Every resident has an individually designed programmatic plan and behavior plan. All behavior plans are developed by a psychologist with expertise in autism. Each resident is assigned a staff member who works directly with the student on social skills, communication, behavior skills, community integration, and life skills. The goal of our residential supports department is to assist each student in being as independent as possible in their home and community.