Cornerstone Autism Center’s second location in Indiana is nestled in Purdue Research Park West Lafayette, home of Purdue University. Cornerstone collaborates in many ways with the departments at Purdue. Nurse practitioners, speech and language researchers, and alumni share some connection with Cornerstone either by working together finding better ways to handle the increase of autism or working directly for Cornerstone as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapists.
Another school that Cornerstone has a relationship with at Purdue is the college of Health and Human Sciences at Purdue. The college prepares undergraduate students for a life serving those in need and the training to guide youngsters toward positive change that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. The majors in the college are very hands on. One department, Human Development and Family Studies, supply soon to be graduating students with the chance to meet health care and non-profit professionals in Indiana to prepare them for the job market. After meetings and mock-interviews students must find an internship for their final semester. The Cornerstone Autism Center is one of the many that come on to campus to present to the class about the special qualities that make up Cornerstone and to answer any questions students might have about the center.
Two undergraduates, Christina Citta and Tracy McCullough, went through an interview process with the Cornerstone faculty to intern, learn more about ABA therapy, and how the Cornerstone Autism Center cares for its kiddos. In the end Christina and Tracy were selected to join the Cornerstone family and continue on to support the children with autism that walk through their doors.
Recently I asked the two ABA therapists some questions to learn more about their experience.
Jarrad: What made you want to work with children with autism? Did you even know when you were freshmen students at Purdue that this was the path you would take?
Tracy:No, I entered Purdue as a psychology major and stayed until the beginning of my junior year. It was then when I realized that I preferred working with children, I just didn’t know if I wanted to work in the education department or in early childhood. I chose working with the younger children because I found them fun and innocent. That’s why I chose the major primarily working with children 0-3 years old.
Christina: I came to Purdue with the dream of working with children who have special needs through physical therapy. Not long after I began, I figured out that physical therapy was not for me; however I was still passionate about working with children. I discovered the Human Development and Family Studies department and the two majors’ Early Intervention (EI) and Early Childhood Education and Exceptional Needs (ECEEN). When the opportunity came up to intern for Cornerstone I thought it would be fun and a good experience for after college. Little did I know after the first week interning there I wanted to be here full-time.
What majors and minors did you receive from your time at Purdue?
Christina: EI and ECEEN with departmental honors studying engineering in the early childhood classroom.
Tracy: Early Intervention.
And when was your internship?
Both: It began January 9th 2012 and it lasted till April 20th. Our full time position started April 23rd.
Why did you choose Cornerstone over other organizations that serve children with autism?
Tracy: I chose Cornerstone over other organizations because I loved the atmosphere, and the people were very supportive and nice. I also wanted to stay in the West Lafayette area and Cornerstone was the perfect location.
Christina: I choose Cornerstone for my internship because I was captivated by David’s presentation in my professional development class (HDFS 454). I interviewed at other centers and then I interviewed with David and there were profound differences between them. When talking with David I felt inspired and excited to make a difference. I was really attracted to the Cornerstone culture that David raved about and excited to learn more about Dream Manager. I felt like I could not only be an asset to Cornerstone, but that I could really reap unique benefits from working there.
Did you want the job at first?
Tracy: Of course I did! I had so much fun during my internship that I wouldn’t want to pass up this opportunity. I thought to myself I can’t believe I would be getting paid to play with children while making a difference.
Was ABA or Professional Crisis Management (PCM) training hard to learn? If so, what helped you with some of the harder parts?
Tracy: The first week of work was dedicated to a very intensive training of ABA. There were videos, worksheets, and even an exam I had to take to make sure I understood. The more difficult areas were understood when I hit the floor and shadowed other therapists.
Christina: The enticing thing about ABA is that you are always learning on your feet. The intensive training that Cornerstone put us through was extremely fascinating, but the real training began when we hit the floor and began putting our knowledge to use. I went through 16 weeks of my Cornerstone internship and have been employed with Cornerstone for almost two months and I am still learning more about ABA and my own personal style of working with children who have autism.
What are the differing levels of the autism spectrum that you help with?
Christina: The typical rule of thumb when working with children who have autism is that there is no “typical”. Each child is unique and the benefit of ABA is that therapy is highly individualized.
What kind of activities do you two do at Cornerstone?
Christina: We regularly participate in weekly meetings. We do a lot of fun things like Team Building activities. We often have social events outside of work as well, which strengthens bonds between coworkers and makes going to work with the same people every day a LOT more fun!
Tracy: A nice aspect about the culture at Cornerstone is that everyone is very kind and supportive of one another. Many people share their personal goals with each other and try to help one another accomplish them. For example, most of us have goals of being healthier. People often bring in new dishes and healthy recipes to try or organize group activities to stay fit.
Any extracurricular activities involving Cornerstone?
Christina: The only event I have been to is Lights Up, Sound Down. It was so much fun! What we had to do was get there [Eastside 9 Theater in Lafayette IN] before the movie began and set up the Cornerstone booth. Then when families came in we gave them tickets and vouchers for popcorn and drinks. After everyone was in their seats we got to sit and watch the movie!
The Cornerstone Autism Foundation has just been established. How do you feel about the work it is hoping to accomplish regarding supporting other non-profit organizations in the autism arena?
Christina: As far as the foundation goes, I think that it is great! Cornerstone’s mission is to ‘Maximize those who struggle, Embrace those who love, and Fulfill those who serve’ and the Foundation is just another step Cornerstone is taking to reach its mission.
June 18, 2012, caroline