By Joe Lugara

No 'CHIP' Off the Old Block in AstoriaNew center brings more options to children with developmental disorders

  |  Advice & News: Kids With Special Needs  

New Yorkers with children affected by developmental delays may have already benefited from the services of the Children's Home Intervention Program (CHIP) within the reassuring environments of their own homes. But recently, the program, known for coming directly to its clients, expanded its reach even further with the opening of its own in-house facility. Called CHIP Harbor, the new classroom center, located at 30-15 Vernon Boulevard in Astoria, was created to enhance — not replace — the in-home services CHIP has been providing to New Yorkers since 1996. "We were originally home-based, and we'll continue to be home-based," says Lois Bond, executive director and co-founder of the program with Kathleen Kuhlman,. "But with this new facility we'll expand the options parents will have. Children with autism/pervasive developmental disorder sometimes need to have home services first because they don't have the social skills to be in a classroom environment. They can't make the eye contact, they can't be around strangers, so working with them one-on-one at home first helps develop those skills, and makes for a good transition into school." Five classrooms, a playroom, a parent-meeting space and therapy areas make up CHIP Harbor. The building is staffed by a range of professionals including special educators, speech pathologists, and occupational and physical therapists, in daily classes for children 18 months to 3 years, held in two sessions, from 8:30am-11am and 1:15pm-3:45pm. Kuhlman estimates that no more than 10 students (and as little as six or eight) will occupy each of the five classes in both the morning and afternoon sessions, with the smallest classes focusing on the most severe disorders, such as autism/pervasive developmental disorder. Each child will have his or her own individual teacher trained in the use of the applied behavior analysis process. Bond describes applied behavior analysis (ABA) as "now the method of choice for use with kids with autism." ABA, she says, "breaks down the steps into very small increments. We use 'Discreet Child Teaching', which is instruction and performance. We say to the child, 'Clap your hands,’ and if they don't, we help them do it. We teach them how to imitate, and we teach them how to ask for what they want; in fact, the first thing we teach them is how to ask for what they want. If they're able to make their needs known, they'll be less frustrated." Autism, Bond says, is a "spectrum" disorder — a disorder containing a range, or level, of severity. On its mild side, it is referred to as pervasive developmental disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified). Mild or severe, autism/pervasive disorders have been the specialty at CHIP since its establishment seven years ago. Early intervention is key, according to Bond, who reports having seen "tremendous changes" in children whose disorders have been addressed in good time. "Earlier is better; the brain is still very malleable," she says, pointing out that children who receive early intervention can — and have — moved on to regular inclusion classes. Although the current services at CHIP Harbor are for children at least 18 months old, therapy programs are currently being developed for even younger children. (Parent/child groups are already up and running). Funded by the New York City Early Intervention Program, the services at CHIP Harbor (including the program's transportation service, which buses the children in each day) are all free. For more information, call (718) 956-7779.