Jan Downey is the Director of Long Island Programs and Services for Eden II/Genesis Programs. She is a licensed Speech-Language Pathologist in New York State, and holds the Certificate of Clinical Competence from the American Speech-Language and Hearing Association (ASHA). Jan is also the mother of two adult sons with autism.
1) What has been your fondest memory of Genesis?
That’s a tough one as there are many! I love the people I work with. I adore the kids and their families. Seeing their accomplishments, it’s these continuous moments. If I could narrow it down it would have to be two different things. Our move a few years ago was hectic, but it was really a highlight for me. It felt good to move into our current building (at Newbridge Road).
When I first started as an undergraduate speech teacher, Joanne Gerenser asked if I would do my student teaching at Genesis. I have two sons with autism, and I felt a personal connection with the school. I wanted to learn more. They inspired me, and I wanted to understand this field and help them and other children. I jumped at the chance. Nearly eighteen years later, I’m still here and loving it!
Years ago, while completing my student teaching at Genesis, there was a particular student on my caseload who had a lot of difficulty communicating He was nonverbal, and it was very frustrating for him. As a result he demonstrated many maladaptive behaviors. He was only able to discriminate between two PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) pictures and was not making progress. After establishing a good rapport and working with him, he mastered a variety of PECS pictures and was able to transition to a voice output system to communicate. If you think about it, that’s what it’s all about. It was very rewarding to be able to see his progress, as well as the progress of all of our students throughout the years.
2) How has Genesis grown since you started working?
We’re bigger, which allows us to provide more services for families and participants. Genesis started out as just two classes. We now have five. We also have a day habilitation program with 21 participants which opened in 2007. We have two group homes and are working on a third. Since I began 18 years ago, the improvement in services has been huge. One of the changes I implemented when I became director in 2011 was to have the classrooms be language and communications based as Autism is a disorder of communication. I felt that focusing on this aspect was really the key to better serving our students. Speech therapists were implemented in the classroom and had direct involvement with the teachers. Now they can give immediate feedback, and it allows us to have this team feeling. It’s great. I’m also very proud of our track groups, which are communication and language based and focus on having students’ work and respond in a group setting. The parents who have had the opportunity to observe a track group love it, as it really enhances their children’s ability to communicate. The teachers have done a tremendous job infusing more language throughout the day, and it makes such a noticeable difference.
3) Where would you like to see Genesis in the next 20 years?
I would love to see us have a state of the art building. It would be amazing to increase our school capacity to provide services to even more kids. I hope to see Genesis continue to grow and be an important voice in the autism community.
Message to Staff & Parents: I am so proud of our staff. I appreciate our families, and our participants. It is extraordinary to see these children work hard and learn new skills every day. It brings me such joy. I saw a vision, and this incredible team really allowed it to come to life. At the end of the day, I ask myself, “Are we increasing independence?”, “Are these students learning?” I know with the efforts of the Genesis staff, the parents, and the students, I can comfortably say the quality of life for these individuals with autism is improving, and they are learning. I look forward to seeing what the next 20 years has in store for Genesis.