Every semester at Purdue University the Cornerstone Autism Center gives select students the opportunity to be interns at their Greenwood or West Lafayette centers and learn what it takes to be ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) therapists for children with autism. Cornerstone puts them through the ropes, training them through the same program full-time staff receive and giving them hands-on experience that benefits the children attending both centers.
Many of the majors at Purdue require students to participate in internships to graduate. In the college of Health and Human Sciences that encompasses such majors as nursing, psychology, and health and kinesiology. Receiving real world experience is fundamental to being successful in the careers these undergrads are pursuing.
Greta Bridgeman was one of these students. And through her hard work and love for helping kiddos she became the newest valued member of the Cornerstone family. Greta’s major is in Human Services. Based out of the department of Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS), Human Services prepares individuals to work with various communities to help improve their life circumstances. Students in this multi-faceted major are taught to identify situations that threaten individuals and families and help them find solutions to their challenges.
Cornerstone recognizes the hard work these students put in to make a better future for communities. Every semester Cornerstone speaks to the HDFS undergrads about autism, the different aspects of serving the autism community and families, answers questions to prepare for nerve racking interviews, and offers advice for cover letters and resumes current employers look for to give these students the upper hand for success.
After getting the good word that Cornerstone wished Greta to stay on board and become a full time employee, I asked Greta a few questions about her internship that lead to her new career.
Jarrad: What majors and minors did you receive from your time at Purdue?
Greta: Human Services
Jarrad: What made you want to work with children with autism?
Greta: I originally wanted to work somewhere in Human Resources, but when Megan DeYoung and David Ide spoke to my class at Purdue I knew I wanted to be involved with Cornerstone; David really sold his company! Once I interviewed with Megan and David for the internship I knew that’s where I wanted to intern.
I’ve always loved working with children so what better way to spend my career than helping young children with special needs. It’s also a big plus getting to engage in reinforcement with the children during our breaks from programming. You never know what random hysterical things these kids can come up with which always makes the day better!
Jarrad: Did you know when you were a freshman at Purdue that Human Services and ABA was the path you would take to graduation?
Greta: Not a clue! During my internship interview I remember asking Megan, “What exactly is ABA therapy?” I originally started out as a Consumer and Family Science Education major. It just wasn’t clicking for me so I moved to a Psychology major. Psychology was such a broad, confusing area and I was not a fan of the massive amount of research required for the courses. I wanted a major that’s focus was a hands-on approach, thus I discovered Human Services. Once I started my courses I knew I was in the right area.
Jarrad: And when did you start and finish your internship?
Greta: I started my internship August 2012 and finished December 2012
Jarrad: Why did you choose Cornerstone over other organizations that serve children with autism?
Greta: Cornerstone not only shows that they care about their children, but also their families and their employees. I have worked at several places, but I have never worked for a company as generous and wonderful as Cornerstone. Even though there are only two centers right now, autism is not dissipating, and that only gives us more room to grow!
Jarrad: You went through Cornerstone’s ABA therapy training. How long was it?
Greta: I was interning with two other girls and we were still in full college mode during our training. It originally takes about a week to finish it all, but we were fairly quick at finishing our work (hence college mode) and we were ready to take our ABA test on Thursday! We had to wait until Friday though…sometimes you just have to follow protocol.
Each day we spent a few hours working on ATS [Autism Training Solutions] and discussions. We were also able to spend time on the floor with other therapists so we knew what to do there. I was also able to take part in PCM [Professional Crisis Management] training in October and learn how to help those children who are in crisis situations. Word of advice before you embark on PCM, make sure you stretch at least a week before or you will be SORE!
Jarrad: What was the most difficult part of the training for people taking it?
Greta: Long periods of sitting, lol! At first I was very anxious getting on the floor and working with the children. It was also tricky for me to distinguish between all of the different verbal operants, some are ambiguous and appeared to be able to fall into more than one verbal operant. However, once I was on the floor and able to use my knowledge, understanding became much easier.
Jarrad: Have you seen many ranges of the autism spectrum in the children you help? Tell me about how you might serve one child compared to serving another.
Greta: You can go from working with one child who is nonverbal but compliant, to working with a child who is verbal and noncompliant, and everything in between. Some children show some form of aggression while others just want to give you high fives and hugs all of the time. You really have to know how to adapt your therapy from one child to the next so it can accommodate the child appropriately. One great component to doing this is building solid relationships with your children. A good child/therapist bond is important to any child on the autism spectrum if you want the therapy to be successful.
Jarrad: What kind of duties did you do at Cornerstone while you interned?
Greta: I was fortunate enough to have spent my internship in Greenwood and in West Lafayette. In Greenwood I was mostly on the floor working with the children. In West Lafayette I had the opportunity to work in the therapist workroom and learn about how to create behavioral programs.
Making program materials was one of my favorite things because it gave me a more in-depth concept of the VB-MAPP [Verbal Behavior Milestones Assessment and Placement Program]. It also allowed me to understand how to use the program effectively on the floor. In working with programs, I was also able to work inside the software program we use on the iPads for tracking and monitoring data. Additionally, I helped prepare the lunches for the children (Do you know how many foods have gluten?!), worked on the floor with the children when needed, assisted with crafts for the Cornerstone Autism Foundation’s Fall Festival, went to the library to find new books for the children, and much, much more!
Jarrad: Wow, you really got a little piece of just about everything at Cornerstone while interning. What are some of your duties now?
Greta: You mean besides playing in the motor room or dancing like no one is watching in the classroom with the children, lol? Seriously, I am now a full time ABA therapist! My morning and afternoon is split between two children with whom I work with each on various programs.
Helping these children is a life changing experience and it will make you so much more grateful with the life you have. I also love to volunteer at Lights Up, Sound Down. It’s so awesome seeing children who used to have extreme behaviors be able to sit during a movie and watch the entire thing!
Jarrad: What extracurricular activities at Cornerstone have you been a part of?
Greta: Well, Debbie Ide’s super fun employee parties have been pretty amazing! I have volunteered at Lights Up, Sound Down, and I also participated in creating unique crafts and games for the Foundation’s Fall Festival.
Jarrad: When you’re not at Cornerstone what fun things are you most likely doing?
Greta: Planning for my wedding and upcoming baby!
Jarrad: Oh My GOSH!!! Congratulations Greta!
Greta: Thank you! I also love spending time with family (which includes my dog Maggie and my guinea pig Mocha), jam out to music, read, play video games (especially Halo, Lego Harry Potter, or Mario), and baking. I am also a HUGE movie buff and I can spend the entire day doing nothing but watching movies, especially Harry Potter!
Jarrad: LOL! Awesome! You mentioned earlier you helped with the Cornerstone Autism Foundation’s Fall Festival. What do you think of the work it’s doing supporting other non-profit organizations in the autism arena?
Greta: I think it is wonderful!!! Cornerstone has found so many ways to give back to families, employees, and now other organizations. I’m eager to see how the Foundation grows and it’s amazing potential. I’m also excited to witness what new ways we can give back. I remember seeing pictures of the children who received iPads in their classroom on Facebook and Twitter and how excited they were to have this new device! It’s exhilarating to know how many more smiles we will create, and I how great that I am part of such a great place that will do it!
January 14, 2013, cornerstoneac