Who We Are
We are a small private special needs school that serves a wide level of needs. We provide a classroom setting that uses the science of Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) to reach and teach your child the skills necessary to become their most capable and productive self. Our focus is on empowering children by teaching them foundational skills to increase their level of engagement across settings and relationships. We work as a collaborative team, with your family and any outside therapeutic providers to gain an accurate understanding of your child’s existing strengths and to develop meaningful and realistic goals that align with your family’s needs and values. We heavily focus on planning for your child’s future and our end goal for every child is gaining the skills necessary for employability and to be able to thrive in the most independent living situation possible.
Lauren Brennan has been educating individuals with intellectual and developmental needs for the last 18 years. She first discovered her love and passion for children with intellectual and developmental needs when she was just 15 years old. On her first day of shadowing her sister at an in-home therapy session, a child with significant delays and negative behaviors when exposed to new people immediately approached Lauren, made eye contact, and approximated a greeting. Lauren knew then that she had found her calling.
Lauren worked in childcare all through her teen years. At 19, Lauren took a semester off from her pursuit of a degree in education at UNC-Greensboro, due to a tragedy. During her hiatus, she took a full time nanny position for a family with three children. The children ranged in age from 5 years to 9 months old and all needed extra emotional support and consistent routines and expectations to help them through the transition of living in a single parent home. The 2 year old was not meeting developmental milestones, not speaking, and was demonstrating significant mal-adaptive behaviors. Lauren helped him become communicative by teaching him one word requests, she potty trained him, and she was able to get the negative behaviors under control. The successes with this child, and the significant improvement in quality of life for the entire household, solidified in Lauren’s mind what her career path was meant to be.
After Lauren’s semester home, she transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University and worked as an inclusion specialist, providing Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) based services to children with intellectual and developmental needs in general education classrooms. During this time she worked and trained with experts in multiple disciplines to include occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, board certified behavior analysts, and psychologists. Lauren provided trainings in schools and communities throughout Richmond and the surrounding counties on using the foundations of ABA in the home and school setting. She also began providing in-home ABA based services. Lauren loved all the work she was doing but wanted to be impacting more children at once and felt that stepping into the classroom would be the best way to achieve this.
Lauren began an autism program at a school in Richmond. To create a strong program, she focused on educating the school staff, students, and parents on how to best interact with and support her students. In her first year teaching she had 8 students, half of which were non-verbal or non-communicative, and half students that had mastered functional communication and were being included in the general education setting for a significant portion of their day. Lauren’s extensive experience as an inclusion specialist gave her the tools and knowledge to support her students in the general education setting. To better meet the needs of her non-verbal students, Lauren attended a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS; a protocol for communicating using pictures) training. Lauren teamed up with the school speech and language pathologist (SLP) to implement PECS with 4 of her students that year. This a huge success and word in the county spread about the accomplishments of this program, created by using ABA based techniques and teaching PECS. The second year, the program doubled in size. Lauren split her students into two classrooms based on level of need, helped hire and mentor a teacher to teach the inclusive classroom, and taught the class serving the higher needs students. She created a program that was specifically designed to teach functional communication skills and partnered with her SLP to provide speech sessions within the classroom. That year she implemented PECS with 10 students and, again, the program created life changing success.
During her time in Richmond, Lauren got married and had two beautiful children, Luke and Savannah. Lauren made the choice to move her family back to North Carolina. She began teaching at a small private school where she re-created the functional communication program she had started in Richmond. She played a significant role in helping to train staff and parents, teaching social skills classes to students ages 4 to 18, and supporting the growth of the school.
While working at this school, Lauren continued to pursue training in best practices for teaching functional communication skills. She attended many trainings offered by Pyramid Educational Consultants, the creators of the PECS protocol, and had the opportunity to go and observe some of their certified classrooms in Delaware. Andy Bondy (one of the creators of PECS) explained the program to her and Lauren was very impressed. The program was based on the Pyramid Approach to Education, a functional application of ABA, and was designed to be applicable to students with a wide variety of needs. These students were thriving and on a path to lifelong success. Each classroom focused on teaching students the necessary skills for their highest level of independence with their adult living situations, to be employable, and to be successful participants in the community. The students were successfully participating in a wide variety of internships and Lauren directly observed them at their job sites. The students also had an on-site mock apartment, where they learned to cook, fold clothes, make beds, and a wide variety of other imperative home living skills. The students were heavily encouraged to develop hobbies; students would go out into the community to participate in a wide variety of activities such as karate, yoga, and book readings at the library.
Lauren felt compelled to open a similar school based on the Pyramid Approach to Education. Children need an opportunity to be a part of a program that focused on long term goals like independent living, community participation, and employability. With the support of many colleagues and student parents, True ABAlities Learning Academy and ABA clinic came to fruition.
What Makes Us Different
Our approach focuses on improving your child’s immediate quality of life. This means that in addition to using assessments to guide our programming, we take into consideration your priorities as a parent. We want your child to be an active participant in activities that align with your family values such as church, sporting events, concerts, going to the local library, vacations, and more. Many of these aspects of community life
that are enriching for the whole family can feel daunting for families of children with special needs. We believe that all of these areas of functioning are important and that the true measure of success is when your child is able to demonstrate skills taught at school with others in many different settings. We are not interested in merely checking off skills mastered on an assessment, we are here to build the skills necessary for your child to be a happy functioning member of society!