News & Events Category: ‘In the Media’

Comcast Newsmakers Interview with John Visbal

Tuesday, September 20th, 2016

California Autism Foundation Board of Directors Vice President John Visbal interviewed on Comcast Newsmakers.

Cheryl Jennings interviews John Visbal and Melanie Louden

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Autism, Cheryl Jennings interviews John Visbal and Melanie Louden
Beyond the Headlines, ABC 7 Local News, August 21, 2011

What Will Happen When My Child is an Adult?

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

San Francisco Gate, by Laura Shumaker, Writer/Autism Advocate, 2011

This is a question that keeps parents of children with autism awake at night. Trust me.

In the state of California, it’s estimated that 84% of all regional center consumers with autism are under 22, the age when services from their local school districts end. The services needed for this burgeoning population include (but are not limited to):

  • Behavioral Services
  • Day Program, Supported Employment, and Work Activity Program Services
  • Health Care and Therapeutic Services
  • Independent Living and Supported Living Services
  • Residential Services

Enter The California Autism Foundation in Richmond. They have been providing a spectrum of services that meet the needs of people with developmental disabilities and autism for nearly 26 years.
“We take a holistic approach with an understanding that everyone deserves to live in a real home, have a real career path and have an equal opportunity to participate in today’s economy,” says John Visbal, CEO of The California Autism Foundation. “People with developmental disabilities should share the same quality of life.”

The California Autism Foundation began in October 1982, when six friends met around a dining room table to create a home in the community for the foster son of the founder of the California Autism Foundation. Severely handicapped with autism, 18-year-old Kenny lived at Napa State Hospital. Kenny had very little speech, severe behavior problems, and almost no family contact. The founder was told that if he wanted Kenny to live in the community he would have to start a program himself.

With $30,000 in borrowed funds, the first A Better Chance home opened in August 1983 in San Rafael, California with six young men who were previously thought to be unable to live in the community. The program was named “A Better Chance” (ABC) in recognition of the fact that no outcomes could be guaranteed, but that the residents would have a better opportunity for success if they live in a genuinely therapeutic environment. Emphasizing consumer empowerment through the development of communication skills, positive programming, and respect for the individual, the experiment was very successful. Kenny and five housemates still live at ABC I, enjoying an active and productive life.

In 1986, the Regional Center of the East Bay asked CAF to open a second home, and subsequently the Foundation continued to expand and operate several residential homes. Today, CAF provides three licensed homes serving adults with developmental disabilities in Contra Costa County.

Beyond residential care, the CAF family has grown to include a unique array of services offering A Better Chance for over 250 families:

  • A Better Chance School, a progressive K-12 nonpublic school for students who have been unable to thrive in public schools.
  • A Better Chance Richmond Day Program, providing community and site-based vocational development and lifelong learning.
  • ABC Transportation, providing quality transportation service for behaviorally challenged consumers.
  • ABC Industries, an accredited Work Activity Program, that provides adult education and operates Custom Assembly & Packaging (CAP), a successful business providing packaging, labeling, and assembly services at competitive prices.
  • ABC Supported Employment, an accredited service to support disadvantaged workers in finding and keeping employment.
  • ABC Supported Living Services, support services in consumers’ own homes.

ABC Spells a Better Chance for Students with Autism

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

Tucked in an unlikely corner of a Richmond business park, is a school that caters to the unique needs of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders. A Better Chance School is a nonpublic school that operates under the umbrella of the California Autism Foundation, an organization that provides educational and developmental services, job opportunities and housing for individuals with autism. The hallways at ABC are lined with cheerful student portraits and art, and a constant flow of praise for the students is heard. Visitors wouldn’t know that these same teens and young adults were considered difficult students when they were in mainstream schools.

The school began 15 years ago, when directors at CAF realized that students needed help transitioning from mainstream school environments into the residential and employment programs the foundation offered. The idea was to create a school with a “functional skills curriculum” that would integrate school academic standards with daily life skills. So, with three students in an office inside CAF’s warehouse facility, ABC began, and since has grown into a multi-classroom site complete with a working kitchen and laundry room and two and a half dozen students. “Community-based learning and real world experiences are an integral part of education at ABC School. When students are learning to count and do math, they are doing it while doing laundry,” said Leslie Werosh, Senior Director of Special Education & Development. “To learn about money, nutrition, and social exchanges, our students take trips to the grocery store.”

ABC contracts with surrounding school districts that are unable to adequately meet the needs of students with autism. “Often times, the students that are referred to us are exhibiting behavioral challenges,” said Werosh. She added proudly that the school usually sees significant and immediate progress in student behavior after only a short time at ABC.

The school works with the district to establish an Individual Education Plan for each student. Teachers provide constant positive reinforcement and appropriate sensory stimulation to help students shape their behavior. Students are never punished for inappropriate behavior, but rather rewarded with praise, tokens or privileges when they follow directions and expectations. Visitors to the school hear a chorus of praise for tasks ranging from putting materials away, sharing and shaking hands.

In addition to the positive interactional atmosphere, the environment is tailored to its students, who tend to have particularly sensitive sensory systems. Fluorescent lights were replaced with softer, incandescent bulbs. Students have access to a Sensory Room, which includes a swing, climbing wall, weight vests and a squeeze machine—all equipment that can help students calm themselves when they become agitated.

The students make daily trips into the community to learn money and communication skills. “The trips help the students gain confidence in the community, and it also increases public awareness of autism,” said Werosh. Higher-functioning students attend courses at nearby Contra Costa College, and others participate in the Workability Program—where students work with local employers such as Marriott and the Berkeley Repertory Theater.

“Our goal is always to support our students to help them reach their maximum potential,” said Werosh. “Whether a student graduates or transitions back to a district classroom, it is viewed a success.”

The classrooms are full of happy students and the hallways are hung with portraits of them. ABC must be doing something right.