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Helping each child — one trial at a time

Renee Oneil Center for Child Development and Research’s mission is to educate and empower those with special needs
  • Carla Gibson with Daylen Gibson, the first client she worked with upon her return home.

  • Carla Gibson, a board certified behavior analyst, on Sunday, March 12, opened the doors to the Renee Oneil Center (ROC) for Child Development and Research, a behavior therapy center. Gibson was inspired to study special education by her older cousin, who sustained brain damage at birth. PHOTOS: CARLA GIBSON

SHAVAUGHN MOSS
Guardian Lifestyles Editor
shavaughn@nasguard.com

Published: Mar 14, 2017

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Carla Gibson grew up close to her special needs older cousin, LJ, who had sustained brain damage at birth. The love she had for her cousin initially led to her volunteering at a self-contained special education school and to her later studying special education. She said the love she felt for those children in the community turned into a passion. She is now the lead behaviorist/clinical director at the Renee Oneil Center (ROC) for Child Development and Research, an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) Therapy Center, which she founded to meet the needs of those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families.

At ROC, Gibson’s mission is to educate and empower those with special needs, their families and the surrounding community. ROC combines the principles of ABA along with the comprehensive application of behavior analysis to schooling model.

“We focus on increasing communication, increasing any behavior that we want to see more of — that ranges from communication, self-help skills, vocational skills, to pre-vocational skills,” said Gibson.

“We also work on decreasing behaviors, so any negative behaviors that we want to see less of, we decrease those and replace those with appropriate behaviors. An example of that could be kids that throw tantrums because they want attention, or that take things without asking or inappropriately. We replace that with more appropriate behaviors, and we also create behavior intervention plans.”

Gibson says it’s a systematic approach to behavior modification, which in the United States is one of the top therapies used for children with autism and developmental delays.

“Then there are the more typical children who don’t have the ASD, but they have a lot of negative, or challenging behaviors. A lot of times we find that the environment and the way that it’s set up is sometimes not conducive, so we go in and make some changes and we have them on a plan that allows them to be more successful.”

ROC programs include center-based, in-home therapy, teacher training and school consulting.

Their services include in-home behavior management consultation; assessment; program design, implementation, monitoring and support; behavior intervention plan; parent training and education program; early intervention services; functional communication training; language assessment; independent living skills; social skills programs; individualized positive behavior support plans; staff training, coaching and support; professional workshops and functional behavior assessments.

Gibson, who returned home in September 2016, began practicing in January. She officially opened the doors to ROC, located at #87 Market Street, on Sunday, March 12. ROC is south of St. Agnes Church, right after Hay Street.

At the center she said approximately 70 percent of the children she works with are on the autism spectrum disorder, and 30 percent spread across children with ADHD, oppositional defiance disorder and other developmental delays such as Down syndrome.

Since returning home to practice, Gibson said she has received an outpouring of thanks from families for the services she offers at ROC.

“A lot of my families that I’ve come in contact with, they’ve struggled … on one end going away for a lot of the services, and on the other end not being able to afford those services and not being able to access them. A lot of families have also said to me that they’ve had people that came and left, so it’s just been very hard for families to access very good, quality service. And so I’m realizing more and more that it was a good decision to return home.”

In the mere months she’s been practicing, she has seen improvement in many of her clients, but there is one particular child who she said reminds her daily of why she does what she does.

“When I met him initially, by the end of our early sessions I would be in a pool of sweat it was so much work. There were just so many behaviors. It was just a really hard case in the beginning. But seeing him now, it’s been a few months in and we have such amazing sessions. He’s able to request things that he wants that he was unable to do before — and he does it appropriately. We have sessions where we’re able to sit through the entire session and get things done. I’m not sweating, we’re not fighting, and it’s a great session. It really reminds me of why I do it. And that’s what pushes me through those hard sessions.”

Years of volunteer work she said made her fall in love with the special needs population.

“They’re an amazing group of people to work with. I find that I get more out of it than I think they do,” she said.

Gibson, who is a board certified behavior analyst, has a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education from the University of Georgia, and a Master’s degree in Applied Behavior Analysis from Columbia University.

After working a number of years with the special needs population, she decided to pursue a Master’s degree, after she saw the impact she could have not just be

 

 

 

ing a classroom teacher, but being able to serve more people.

The youngest person Gibson works with presently is a two-year-old. The eldest is currently 16, but she says she works with persons up to age 21.

While her target market is more so those people with ASD or developmental delays that fall within the toddler to 21-year-old age range, Gibson also works on a small scale with persons with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or other disabilities that are higher functioning.

She also has a special education certification in moderate, severe and profound disabilities.

The ROC lead behaviorist/clinical director is opening her doors to a population that is famous for hiding away their special needs children. Gibson encourages them not to. And to not feel embarrassed to seek help for their children.

“One thing I always tell my parents is that our goal is to get your child as independent as possible — to get them to their fullest potential. So in working with me, there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. We’re all going to do our best to get them where they need to be, to help parents and to be a support for parents. I feel that was a big thing my parents were lacking also, that level of support where they feel they can come and say, ‘I don't know what to do. It is hard. Can you help me?’ I know it’s hard. I don’t judge, and I’m here to help however I can.”

Gibson’s vision for ROC is to be more than just a center. She said she wants it to become a place that is not just a resource for parents, but for the community.

“I really would love for us as a Bahamian community to become more accepting of those with special needs across the board — to understand that they’re different, but they’re no less than anyone else. So I’m hoping ROC can be more than just a place people come for therapy.”

The ROC Center is named after Gibson’s special needs cousin’s mother, Renee, and her father’s younger brother Oneil, both of whom are deceased and were family members she was close to.

“I always said when I opened up a center I would name it after them because they were always so supportive in everything that I wanted to do.”

Gibson opened the doors to ROC as the world gears up to recognize Autism Awareness Month in April, during which they are encouraged to light it up blue to help increase understanding and acceptance of autism spectrum disorder throughout the month.

At home, REACH (Resources and Education for Autism and related challenges), a non-profit organization that aims to provide parents with the knowledge and tools in this neurobiological disorder, will hold its Light It Up Blue ceremony and penny drive at Rawson Square on Sunday, April 2. REACH T-shirt days will be held on Friday, April 7, 14, 21 and 28. They will set up a REACH autism awareness booth in the Mall at Marathon on April 8.

During the month, REACH will also host an Easter egg hunt for special needs children on Monday, April 17; and host an autism spectrum parent support group meeting/open house on Wednesday, April 26.

With the opening of ROC’s doors, Gibson has joined the limited number of institutions that cater to special needs children on the island. Alternative centers include The Seahorse Institute and the Caribbean Center together; as well as schools that have autism units — Blairwood, Hopedale, Stapledon as well as Garvin Tynes Primary School.

 

 

 

 


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