In her home district, Ashley was using a strict verbal behavioral program. While she had mastered a little over 200 skills (around 600 is average), most of her skills were focused around following one direction guided by a prompt. She was not able to master academics. While her home school district did everything they could to help her, they realized Ashley’s needs would be better met at a specialty program. Pace Learning Center was that program.

“What are we going to do?” questioned special education teacher Pam Salerno’s when seven-year-old Ashley first walked through the doors at Pace Learning Center in Valencia, PA in March of 2010. When Ashley arrived at Pace Learning Center, she had difficulty communicating and could only use one or two words to verbalize what she wanted. Ashley was able to identify her own name, but did not recognize the individual letters. Ms. Salerno noticed immediately that Ashley would not make eye contact with anyone under any circumstances and was told that she was very impulsive and prone to biting. “Then we knew what we had to do. We were trying to come into her world to bring her back to ours”. During her first Individualized Education Program (IEP), Ms. Salerno told Ashley’s mother that they would work on verbal behavioral with speech, but would like to focus on academics as well.

The first big challenge for the staff at Pace Learning Center was teaching Ashley the difference between yes and no. When asked if she wanted a drink of milk, she would answer “no” because she didn’t know the difference. The staff worked diligently with Ashley using “Yes” and “No” language to help her decipher the difference. The staff would ask Ashley “Do you want this toy?” Not knowing the difference, Ashley would answer “No”. The staff would then take away the toy even though she wanted it. Even though it was difficult, Ashley learned the difference between yes and no.

Ashley’s team made the tough decision not to use a communication board because they did not want anyone or anything to talk for her. Instead, they made visual prompts out of paper to help her verbalize. Ashley did best with ten minutes instruction followed by a ten minute sensory break. This led to Ashley’s daily schedule of ten minutes on education, ten minutes of sensory stimulation followed by yes and no instruction and ending with verbal behavioral training. The staff at Pace Learning Center began using a timer to help Ashley understand her schedule and to transition from one activity to another. When Ashley was following instructions the timer would be on, when she began tantrumming, the timer would go off. In order for the timer to resume, the tantrum had to end and Ashley was asked to push the button herself. This put Ashley in charge of her own learning.

For Ashley, paying attention is not the same as everyone else. For students in the public school, paying attention means using active listening, and participating in conversations and class activities. For Ashley, it means giving eye contact and following a specific direction, being at her work area, and being engaged in her activity. The team at Pace Learning Center began to notice that during her sensory time, Ashley became more engaged in what was going on around her. The team found ways of working with Ashley’s sensory issues by keeping a pillow on her lap for pressure or letting Ashley take their hand and put pressure on her head. Previously Ashley would lash out, bite, and throw chairs. Now when Ashley starts losing focus during instruction and her feet start flailing, Ms. Salerno grabs her feet and plays “this little piggy”. When Ms. Salerno massages her toes, Ashley begins working once again. This revelation was a breakthrough in Ashley’s education. She needed the sensory input to focus on her work, so that is exactly

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what she was given. She receives Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy and responds well to tactile activities, deep pressure, movement, or Wilbarger Sensory Brushing Protocol.

Another educational breakthrough came about when Ms. Salerno discovered how much Ashley loves books and pictures. Open books and point to pictures and ask “Ashley… What is that?” she would enthusiastically answer “LION!” At first, Ashley did not understand that books contain stories, not just pictures and that she didn’t have to make up the stories on her own. The staff at Pace Learning Center began using books with songs and rhymes. They would read the page to Ashley and have her repeat phrases while pointing out the words. Ashley was fascinated with the words and stories coming from the books. This enabled the staff to use books and props to help her learn letters. They used props such as rubber snakes, Ashley’s favorite, to put on top of a letter and would prompt Ashley with “the snake is on I” and have her repeat. Once Ashley learned the letters, they moved on to words using the same concept. It worked beautifully. Ashley began putting the words together and began to read.

At the end of the year Ashley put together a book to take home to her family. The staff took sentences that Ashley had been working on and put them in context of “I can”. The staff then took pictures of Ashley doing these things such as “I can jump. I can run. I can hug.” Ashley and the Pace Learning Center Staff put Ashley’s photos into a book with text. And Ashley was able to read each entire sentence. After only three short months, the Pace Learning Center team was able to send home the book Ashley created entitled I see for Ashley to read to her mother. Her Mom was overwhelmed with joy when her little girl sat down and read her a story. “Thank God we found this place; I don’t know what would have happened to her without Pace Learning Center.”

Safe school environments are at the top of everyone’s mind right now. At Pace, we’ve been focused on safety for many years. Safety doesn’t begin or end with locked doors and metal detectors as we know all too well after the tragic events in Connecticut. Early detection and treatment of children’s mental health issues is the key. »Read More

This past weekend the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Delta Sigma Pi from Miami University in Ohio helped Pace in their annual Race for Pace 5K outside Pittsburgh. In an effort to give back to the community while on a professional networking

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event, our brother’s rallied behind the brief but extraordinary knowledge we had about the mission of Pace. Throughout the morning our chapter learned from the school about the tremendous impact and presence this institution has within the Pittsburgh community. »Read More