SC Autism Society honors 3 PHF Employees

Christine Gaynor: South Carolina Autism Society's Inclusion Teacher of the Year

Christine Gaynor is the epitome of a successful inclusion teacher.  Joining Hope Academy in 2006, she leads a blended kindergarten/1st grade class that is inclusion-based, designed so that children with autism learn side-by-side with their neurotypical peers.

Christine addresses the academic needs of each child through careful planning and diverse methodologies.  However, she also takes a holistic approach in helping each child develop behavioral and social goals, regardless of whether an autism diagnosis is involved.  She finds teaching moments throughout each hour of the day to build skills.  She is proactive in seeing strengths to celebrate and challenges to conquer for each of her students.  She has developed a keen ability to find ways to address individualized struggles without singling out a child.

She is actively involved in the ABA programs of her students.  She makes a point to come to team meetings, even over the summer.  She works to incorporate those program goals into the natural classroom environment.  She understands and implements behavioral techniques throughout the day – for all her students.  As a master of reinforcement, she seeks out effective, personalized ways to keep her students engaged.  She always generates wonderful ideas, but she is quick to seek help from our Hope Reach therapy team when needed.

Christine has transformed years of classrooms by fostering lasting relationships between children on the spectrum and their neurotypical peers.  She has carried that energy into her own home, raising two daughters who are champions for their friends with autism.

Dawn Clayman, South Carolina Autism Society's Employer of the Year:

When she became aware of the high unemployment rate for adults on the autism spectrum, Dawn Clayman set out to address the barriers affecting employment.  She recognized that employers are often reluctant to hire employees with autism for fear of public relations problems if situation does not work out.  Having seen the impact of Applied Behavior Analysis therapy, she also realized that these strategies could be helpful in employment circumstances for adults with autism.

Consequently, Dawn designed a solution.  She provided employers with the “buffer” they want by designing her own staffing company, Big Brain Staffing, specifically dedicated to employ adults with autism.  Since the employees are placed through staffing rather than directly with an employer, Big Brain Staffing handles interacting with the client.  She partnered with Project HOPE Foundation to give behavioral training and support.

She has worked tirelessly to help secure contracts to provide ongoing work for adults with autism, including national distribution of materials for Delta Airlines.

Despite the intensive demands of caring for a daughter whose autism presents significant challenges, Dawn is hands-on in her approach to this project.  She interviews clients, serves as their sounding board, and participates in training and oversight.  When transportation proved to be a challenge for some, she figured out options.

Dawn is concerned about each client as a whole person.  She makes sure to include social opportunities and to encourage communication.  She has planned celebratory parties, shopped for individualized reinforcers, and spearheaded walk-and-talk times during the workday.

Tammy Durham, South Carolina Autism Society's Therapist of the Year

In the world of service providers for clients with autism, turnover is expected - but for one fortunate young man, a therapist has remained consistent in his life for 18 years.

Tammy Durham started working with her client when he was a 2-years-old.   She faithfully provided ABA therapy with energy and enthusiasm.  When he began attending classes at Hope Academy, Tammy joined him as a shadow.  For the next eight years, she figured out ways to help this nonverbal boy become interesting to his very verbal classmates.  She managed to shine her light on him, drawing in peers who then encouraged him in his struggles to speak.

No one celebrated more when he began to use his own voice.  Tammy continued to practice diligently with him, serving as his interpreter while his articulation improved.  When he reached the point where others could understand him, she found ways to encourage conversation, always implementing suggestions from his therapy team and coming up with her own innovative ideas.

As he transitioned into other programs, Tammy was by his side.  She embraced efforts to push him towards independence.  Despite any misgivings she might have had, she worked tirelessly to help him cross a street safely … and then walk down the block … and then make his way to a restaurant on his own.  By patiently pushing him, she developed his ability to do things on his own.

Using her bubbly, outgoing personality, she has drawn her client into the community, helping the rest of the town see his potential.  Through her efforts, he now has five jobs in the community, including a daily position as the mail courier for the local school system.  She constantly looks for opportunities to expose him to new experiences and to parlay those experiences into learning opportunities.

For the past 18 years, Tammy has considered her work a personal mission.  She has said for years that she hopes to work herself out a job by helping her client reach the point where he requires no support.  Meanwhile, however, she has remained an amazing example of someone who remains excited and energetic about her work.  She is as dedicated today as she was when her client was a toddler.  Her efforts have transformed his life – and continue to raise the bar for what he can accomplish!