Meet Crystal, the Regional Supervisor for Cornerstones. With over 10 years of experience working with special needs children, Crystal has been a fundamental part of Cornerstone’s growth since she came on board 3 years ago. We sat down with Crystal to ask her more about her work at Cornerstones, which she describes as her “forever job”. This is our conversation.
– Cornerstones Regional Supervisor for the past 3 years.
– The first full time Cornerstones employee, has helped grow the company to 150 + employees.
– Works hard to create a company for which great people want to work and never want to leave.
– Believes that ABA therapy is the most effective treatment for children with autism.
– Crystal is the proud mama of a 7-year-old daughter and enjoys music and art!
“Word of mouth is everything to us. 90% of our patients are referrals from other patients. 75% of our staff are referrals from other staff members. You know you’re doing something right when you’re growing organically. Our growth is due to actual performance, because we do good work. We are who we say we are and do what we say we’re going to do.”
Q: Would you share a bit about your background and how you came to Cornerstones?
A: I started out as a special education teacher in the public schools and immediately came face to face with the restrictions preventing individualized programs for kids with varying disabilities. Kids with very different ability levels and needs are grouped together. There were high functioning kids mixed in with kids who were non-verbal and engaging in a lot of maladaptive and destructive behaviors. There just aren’t a lot of resources, so most of the time they stick a kid in a lane and that’s where they stay. After trying and trying to advocate for appropriate placement and a continuum of care, and making no real progress, I realized that I could make a bigger impact outside the public schools.
I joined a not-for-profit agency that integrated ABA into the classroom with special curriculum and multi-modal materials, strategies, and techniques, and noticed right away that the kids were flourishing. The programs were updated daily, the IEP was an actual treatment plan, goals were being mastered, and the kids were progressing at an impressive rate. It was a wonderful experience that really opened my eyes to what was possible.
Following this work, I moved on to one of the largest ABA clinical facilities in the Chicago area. They were doing good work, but I noticed a crucial flaw with work done strictly inside a clinic. The kids did well inside the controlled environment of the clinic, but, the skills weren’t generalized to the real world. For example, inside the clinic if a child is walking away and their teacher says, “Come back here”, they usually would. But, outside the clinic, they wouldn’t comply.
To address this issue, I helped to create a preschool program that combined preschool and ABA therapy, which allowed them to work on learning in a chaotic, distracting environment with lots of other children. We started to see the generalization flourish for these kids. The clinic also decided to start offering in-home therapy, and my fist in-home therapy visit was an epiphany. I thought, “Why are we not doing this with every kid?”
In the child’s home, I could see how they behaved in real life, outside of the contrived environment of the clinic. The more in-home visits I did, the more I knew it was my passion and so I left the clinic to do in-home visits full time. I absolutely loved it. I knew I was making a difference and relished the relationships built with the families. After a while, I began training other therapists, which I also loved.
Then, about 3 years ago, I came onboard with Cornerstones.
I was the first full time employee to work for the company. One of the first things I took on was creating a mission of passion for children, and a mission of passion for our staff. In so doing, we’ve really been able to grow and create this amazing company.
I absolutely love working here. It’s my forever job. I look forward to coming to work every day and am excited for the future.
Q: What is it about Cornerstones that makes it such a great place to work?
We genuinely care about our staff. I know a lot of companies say that, but often it’s just talk. At Cornerstones, no matter who you are or what position you have, you can pick up the phone to ask for support and someone will be there. We take care of each other, which is reflected in the quality of our work. When employees are happy and the company has a reputation for excellence, that attracts more good people, further benefiting the work and the culture.
The people at Cornerstones are the most caring, genuine people I have ever worked with. Our people don’t just do this because it’s their job. They do it because they care. We’ve created an environment in which everyone feels appreciated and opportunities are granted for those who go after them. We involve our people in everything the company is doing – internally and out in the community. Regardless of how spread out we might be, serving in different areas, we function as a team.
Q: You mentioned that you were the first full-time employee at Cornerstones. Now the company includes over 150 employees. To what do you attribute this growth?
A: Word of mouth. People like working for us and they talk about it. Parents like the work we do with their children and talk about it. 90% of our patients are referrals from other patients. 75% of our staff are referrals from other staff members. Word of mouth is everything to us.
Q: What is it about the work that Cornerstones does that generates such enthusiasm?
A: The thing that really sets us apart, in terms of ABA therapy, is the level of parent involvement. We do everything we can to get the parents as involved as possible. We not only meet with parents every month to discuss their child’s progress, we train the parents to be a part of their child’s therapy. This is huge because insurance isn’t going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a child to get unlimited amounts of ABA therapy.
Also, each child’s program is never stagnant. It’s growing, changing, and evolving with the child. The program adapts to the child, not the other way around. The parents feel taken care of and can see the impact therapy is having on their child.
Another important aspect is how low our turnover rate is. We’ve not only been able to attract good people, we’ve also been able to retain them. ABA therapy has the highest turnover rate in the medical care field, including hospice and geriatrics. But, when people come onboard with Cornerstones, they stay.
I think one of the reasons for this is that we know how important it is to value our therapists. They are the reason our company exists. They are the reason we have so much word of mouth business. Our success rests on their shoulders.
Q: Why is ABA such an effective way to treat kids with autism?
A: ABA is a systematic approach to treating the symptoms of autism while increasing communication.
Imagine a pendulum, with communication skills on the right and maladaptive behavior on the left. If you increase a child’s ability to communicate, the pendulum swings to the right. Communication goes up and maladaptive behaviors goes down. When the child feels they can’t communicate, the pendulum swings to the left. Maladaptive behavior goes up and communication goes down.
ABA is a systematic approach to increasing functional communication skills, which also reduces behaviors like throwing a tantrum, crying, hitting, screaming, etc. It focuses on the fact that not being able to communicate is frustrating and kids will act out as a result.
Q: As Regional Supervisor, what are your primary responsibilities?
A: I’m usually the first person a new patient talks to. We discuss their goals, what they’re hoping to get from therapy, what ABA is and what they hope to get out of it. I check into their insurance to find out if ABA therapy is covered and what that coverage involves. This is important because we are here to help families – not create more stress from parents realizing after treatment begins that their out of pocket expense is bigger than they thought it would be.
Then I complete the clinical intake to find out as much as I can about the child – who they are, what they like and dislike, if they have allergies, medical issues, etc. – and use that information to match the child with an analyst.
I am also super available to our analysts all the time. They know they can pick up the phone and talk with me any time they want and I’ll do anything in my power to support them. I appreciate our people so much that I’ll go to great lengths to make sure they feel valued and taken care of.
Q: What do you see for the future of Cornerstones?
A: Three months from now we are opening an ABA clinic beneath a children’s museum in a southwest suburb of Chicago for which I will be the director of operations. The clinic will be multi-modal and include speech and occupational therapy.
We are really excited for this development because that population in that area is currently underserved when it comes to these types of services. Also, the clinic will serve those parents for whom in-home therapy is limited or not possible and kids who are in a situation where they are receiving very little social interaction.
Ultimately, we’d like to see a lot of parents take an integrated approach where their child is receiving ABA therapy at the clinic a couple days a week and at-home a couple days a week. It’s an opportunity for us to serve parents and their children in an even more comprehensive way.
To find out more about Cornerstones and the work we do to support children with autism and their families, please click here.
Are you looking for ABA services for your child in the comfort of your home? Are you looking for less stress in your life? Cornerstones Autism Services can help.