An Interview With Our President Jesse Kushner

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Q: When did you get started in this line of work? and Why?

A: My interest in working with children with disabilities began when I was 17 years-old as a senior in Syosset High School on Long Island, NY.  I had joined a club that featured volunteering with children with intellectual disabilities.  My first experience occurred when I was chosen for a work-study program.  After my morning class schedule I worked in a self-contained classroom with children with mild intellectual disabilities at a junior high school.  I loved it and received accolades from the classroom teacher.  I enjoyed myself so much that on the weekends I would go over to the homes of the students and spend a few hours with them.  I loved the feeling working with children with disabilities gave me and I truly enjoyed seeing the kids function within the community.   I was hooked for sure and pursued a degree in Special Education from New York State University College at Buffalo, in Buffalo, New York.

Q: Did you always know this is what you wanted to do with your life?

A: During the first year of my college career, my major in Special Education required me to complete 40 hours of volunteer work with individuals with intellectual disabilities.  Each Saturday all of the special education undergraduates would board a bus to volunteer at West Seneca State Hospital for individuals with disabilities.  There was a fellow undergraduate on that very same bus with a beautiful smile and little did I know, she would one day become my wife.

My interest in becoming a Special Education teacher grew from my college coursework and my volunteer work at West Seneca.  Interesting enough my first group of individuals I volunteered with in the spring of 1974 were in the geriatric wing at West Seneca State hospital.  I have fine memories of that time however, my work on the geriatric ward became too emotionally difficult for me so I switched and began to work with children with Down Syndrome.  This was a much better fit for me as I was young, had a lot of energy and so did the children I worked with.  I specifically remember one child who had a devious sense of humor and I remember laughing a lot.

Although some college students switch majors throughout their college career, I did not.  I stuck with my Special Education major which truly allowed my interest in the field to grow.  I graduated college in 1977 and landed a job at a residential center in the Catskill Mountains of New York.   I then followed my fiancée to Franklin Lake School who had been hired four months earlier.  I learned basic behavioral management, discreet trial teaching, and how to work in a class with students who could not work independently.  Two years later, my wife and I moved to Petersburg, Virginia where I began working in a classroom with children with multiple handicaps where my confidence grew even more.  In 1982, I was hired to teach math to adjudicated youth with intellectual disabilities in the Virginia prison system. In 1987, I earned my certification as a Special Education supervisor and worked at many minimum and maximum security correctional facilities across the state.  And in 1993, I became the Director of Education at Timber Ridge School, a residential school in Cross Junction Virginia, working with adjudicated and troubled special education students.

In the fall of 1997, I switched gears and reentered the classroom as a full-time teacher working with children with autism and intellectual and major behavioral issues. I remained with the Prince William School system for the next ten years.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I was working at Independent Hill School in Prince William County and I began thinking about an in-home business that would attempt to bridge the gap between school and home.  During my first few years at the school, I began meeting my students in their homes on Saturdays.  After spending the day together, it became evident that in order for all the gains we had made during the school week to be carried over into the evening and weekend hours the parents needed help in the home as well.  In April 2005, I founded my in-home respite and behavioral management business and then finally an ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy business with children and families in Northern Virginia.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of starting your own ABA Therapy business?  

The most rewarding aspect of starting my own ABA Therapy business is seeing, within a short period of time, children reacting and behaving favorably to a new structure of activities and lessons. These changes were duplicated time and time again with different licensed Behavior Analysts and their ABA instructors in different homes.  From a business with one employee, we now employ 5 Licensed Behavior Analysts and are providing services in 32 homes, with a total of 34 employees working in five counties in Northern Virginia and in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.   Prior to having our ABA Therapy services, the children were engaging in aggressive acts, self-injury, repetitive and restrictive behaviors and had a limited ability to communicate and function effectively within the community. The changes have been dramatic and it is rewarding to see the smiles on the faces of the children and parents as they both learned new skills.  The same children, who only weeks before, had nothing to do but engage in stereotypic (self-stim), aggressive, and self-injurious behaviors began actively participating in numerous activities that improved their communication, and reduced inappropriate, and aggressive behaviors.  Our parents began to see the light at the end of the tunnel and could now envision taking their children to the grocery stores and sit-down restaurants where it was an impossibility prior to these in-home services.  I love hearing from the parents when they claim they never thought their son or daughter could do the things they are now witnessing. Seeing these positive changes, while providing employment to 33 part and full-time employees, fills me with great pride.

Where do you see the therapies going in the future?

It is certainly disheartening to see so many children with autism. We are going to need a coordinated effort to effect the most change in the lives of autistic individuals. Both school and home will need to work closely together.  It is my hope that in the future Special Education would open up itself to a new paradigm:  Half day school for certain disabilities such as autism and the intellectually disabled and a half day at home working with an ABA therapist and Behavior Analyst.  I see a day where the IEP (Individual Education Plan) and the ISP (Individual Service Plan) become one plan creating a coordinated person-centered program which can tackle all aspects of learning beyond the current emphasis on academics.  The best place to teach daily living and life skills would be in the home, not in the classroom.  Language development and communication skills would be emphasized in both home and school. Behavioral strategies should be consistent and social skills improvements can be realized more efficiently when both home and school work together.  In short, it is my hope, that in the next two decades, the school and the community resources unite for the benefit of the child and their family.

 

 

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