With All Due Respect

By Sandra Zunino

When Dave Slama, Training Coordinator at Ridgely’s Benedictine School arranges for staff training or parent and agency partner workshops, one theme remains constant – respect.

“We must respect the individual and acknowledge that they have rights and privileges like anyone else,” he says. “The more that we can help them and teach them, the more fulfilled their lives will be.”

The Benedictine School provides residential and day services for children and adults with developmental disabilities, ages 5 through 60. In order to provide such services, staff members require extensive training for various certifications and skills. Dave Slama coordinates training not only for staff members, but for parents as well, to help deal with developmentally disabled children.

Certifications for first aid and CPR expire every year or two and must be renewed. Additionally, restraining procedures used for dealing with behavior problems must be refreshed annually. Dave relies on guidelines provided by the Developmental Disabilities Administration, Maryland State Department of Education and the Department of Human Resources. Training techniques also come from his and his staff’s experience from working with the children. “Every program and every child is different,” says Dave. “We must be creative to meet each child’s needs.”

Training new staff and constantly updating information to deal with new disabilities is important to provide the most comprehensive services to the individuals at the school. “We are constantly facing the challenge of meeting the educational needs for autistic individuals,” says Dave. “This is a very unique population with children ranging from severely disabled to highly functioning.”

This group is especially sensitive to sensory stimulation. Because harsh lighting and noise can aggravate a person with autism, lighting might be dimmed. Even the hum of florescent lights, something almost imperceptible to many people, can cause problems for those with autism.

“Sensory is something that we are constantly working on,” explains Dave. Techniques such as brushing, joint compression and sensory rooms are often utilized.

Dave has been with the Benedictine School for 35 years. He started a resource program that helped deal with children in crisis. “I thought if I trained the staff with techniques I used, it would help my job,” he says.

From there, Dave participated in many training programs, achieved certification in several different programs and used the knowledge to adapt to the needs of the Benedictine students.

When students go home, it is important for their schedules to remain consistent. Therefore, the school works with parents, teaching them techniques so the students’ experience at home is not radically different from their experience at school.

Every fifth weekend, Dave coordinates workshops that parents and agency partners can attend. Workshops focus on issues such as behavior management, challenges with autism, classroom strategies, transitioning from school to adult services, and life skills and building independence.

Throughout the many topics, Dave says emphasizing respect for the individual is of utmost importance to him. “They want to be treated just as we want to be treated.”

For more information about the Benedictine School, visit www.benschool.org or call 410-634-2112.