Psychology major Fiona Griffin ’18 credits her father, an autism behavior specialist, with instilling in her the drive to work with the autism community and seek equal opportunities in education. “I feel that oftentimes children with special needs are forgotten in the wider conversation of education,” said Griffin.
This summer, Griffin is working at the New England Center for Children (NECC) as a teacher for students with severe autism. As a full-time intern, she has the same responsibilities as a teacher at the day school, whose responsibilities include not only teaching, but also research and data collection. “I was always very focused on the student and how to fit to their individual needs in the moment, but felt unenthusiastic about research and data collection which always seemed disconnected from the actual act of teaching,” Griffin said.
In a typical day, she rotates between four students in a one-to-one classroom. Griffin and the other teachers each run different programs with the students, including life skills, vocational skills, and social skills. Interns also accompany the students to the gym or pool, the cafeteria, vocational trainings, and a host of other activities. The ways in which learning programs are specialized according to a student’s needs has shown Griffin that research and teaching can go hand-in-hand, as the data collected one day will affect the way to teach a program the next.
In order to conduct research, NECC uses Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) techniques in order to create an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for each student. Over the years, the field of behavior analysis has developed many techniques, such as positive reinforcement, for increasing useful behaviors and reducing those that are harmful.
Hometown: Little Meadows, Pa.
High School: Seton Catholic Central High School
Griffin keeps track of students’ data regarding their performance in different programs, if they should move to higher or lower levels of difficulty, what sort of reinforcement they receive for positive behaviors, and more. This data helps the specialists at NECC ensure that all students IEPs are accurately addressing their needs.
By implementing IEPs, or by using ABA techniques to create new goals, Griffin is able to better understand and respond to her students, making her a more effective teacher. “As I get more comfortable with the programs and the processes at NECC, I will be able to take a more active role in designing IEPs and skills programs for my students,” she said. At the end of her time at NECC, Griffin hopes to have made a genuine connection with her students and to have in some way influenced their educations for the better.