Alternatives for Children
Every child has individual learning abilities, and it can be disconcerting when you sense your child is developing differently than his or her peers. You might notice your child is not reaching certain milestones when compared to an older sibling’s development, or even when compared to other children of a similar age.
If there are concerns, it may be time to discuss them with your pediatrician, who will likely recommend that your child be evaluated.
A Unique Focus on Learning
Sometimes children’s needs are better served in a more focused or non-traditional environment, where learning is combined with individual instruction, and activities are facilitated by trained faculty who are educated to recognize and understand each child’s unique capabilities.
Through a solid foundation of learning while supporting their mental, physical, emotional and social development, Alternatives for Children encourages success through focused assessment and the creation and implementation of individual learning plans, with teachers and clinical specialists working together with each child to reinforce positive outcomes.
A History of Caring and Commitment to Children
“We serve about 600 children a year across our sites and provide them with the programs and services they need.”
Alternatives for Children began as a small therapy-based program at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson in 1998. The program soon expanded and was known as St. Charles Educational and Therapeutic Center, which ultimately was renamed Alternatives for Children. There are four locations on Long Island, serving a diverse population of children and their families, in Aquebogue, East Setauket, Dix Hills and Southampton.
Ficano explains that the local school districts conduct an independent evaluation for children between the ages of three and five, and the results determine what, if any, services the child needs. Since each child is different, some might require a half or full day of a program, while others may need individualized therapy. Certain children are medically frail and must be accompanied by a nurse, which necessitates additional therapies.
“We provide a whole spectrum of services,” she says.
SMART & State-of-the-Art
All therapists are licensed by the State of New York, and the curriculum is approved by the New York State Education Department.
“Our programs have a great reputation,” Ficano says. “We are often the first choice for families and school districts.”
Alternatives for Children is equipped with superior technological provisions, from cutting edge computer labs and tablets to SMART boards in every classroom. In the listening center, Alternatives for Children provides interactive lessons where children are able to wear earphones to hear stories.
“We have all kinds of adaptive and modified equipment for children who have difficulty hearing or seeing, and pointers for those who don’t have the dexterity to point themselves,” she explains. A Sensory Room for children on the autism spectrum has specialized applications geared toward their needs.
“It’s very soothing in here. We play soft music, some of the equipment lights up and they have to stretch to reach the light in physical therapy, so it’s not so regimented. It’s one-on-one in this room,” Ficano explains.
The center offers a Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy gym, vision, speech and music therapy, and a technology center with a dedicated specialist who ensures that each child’s iPad is individually programmed.
There are also centers focused on science, literacy, reading, math and technology.
An outdoor play area is located on one side of the building with an adaptive playground. On the other side is a beautiful Memory Garden in honor of children who have passed. Ficano says it’s a special place for families and faculty to reflect and remember these children.
Daycare for Typically-Developing Peers
Alternatives for Children also provides traditional day care for children as young as six weeks-old.
According to Ficano, in a typical situation, these children will move into an integrated class when they are three years old, as their goal is to have 50/50 integration of special needs and typically-developing peers in the class. All children learn sharing, taking turns and self help skills.
“Each child has an individual education plan, and we tailor that plan to the school. Our goal is to move the child across that continuum in the least restrictive environment and be integrated into their public school. We have many success stories with the data to back it up,” she says.
Commitment from the Community
Support from their board of directors plays a huge role in the success of Alternatives for Children. Chairman of the Board, Frederic Mendelsohn, MD, is board-certified in Neurorehabilitation and Neuroimaging, and was formerly affiliated with St. Charles Hospital. Peter Lessing of Lessings, Inc., a family owned catering juggernaut, is one of the newer board members.
Jim Buzzetta, Vice President of the Competition Auto Group, who oversees their Mercedes-Benz of Huntington dealership, joined the Board of Trustees in 2005. Jim, who volunteers his time on several boards, has been the driving force for their fundraising efforts, especially the hugely successful annual Alternatives for Children Classics and Sports Car Rally.
“Being involved helping AFC has really been an honor. It’s a big organization with a lot of complexity. Dr. Ficano and the staff are so dedicated and hardworkingit’s an inspiration.” Ficano says there is still much to do to make their budget. “We went six years without any increase in funding from the state. It was really hard, but like other non-profits, we are being asked to do more with less. That’s why these fundraisers are so important.”
Buzzetta concurs with Dr. Ficano and adds, “We rely on the government to set our rates and fund us in a timely fashion, and we are highly regulated as a school that aids disabled children. There always needs to be a balance between taking care of the kids and following our mission, while staying financially healthy long-term.
“It’s fascinating and really challenges my business knowledge. I am happy to share my experience with the board and help navigate the health and future of the school. It’s very fulfilling, and at AFC you truly believe that you make a positive impact in the success of the school, and thus the children, Jim says.”
Be the Best You Can Be
As Ficano walks through the halls of the center, she passed several staff members and faculty, all holding hands with a child and wearing a smile.
It is that type of environment that allows children and their families to walk into a haven of learning and love, secure in the knowledge that they will receive top-notch care and an education in an atmosphere that encourages them to do the very best they can.