Sharing Our Stories: Alumnae Stories from the Pandemic

Kristina De Pinto 14Kristina DePinto ’14 graduated as a Bunting. She majored in Sociology, Education & Psychology. Her experience in the former AADC Externship Program exposed her to the field of Autism and led her to a career with a focus in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA). Kristina continues to mentor classmates in pursuit of attending graduate school. Here is her story, shared on September 17, 2020.

The past five months during the pandemic have been a real time of reflection for me both professionally and personally. I had been transitioning to my career as a behavioral consultant since getting my master’s degree in Educational Leadership and Behavior Analysis in May 2019 from St. Joseph’s University.

I serve people and families affected by Autism across the Pennsylvania area and work directly with the significant behavior population. I create behavior plans, teach many clients daily living skills and help many with communication difficulties, as the majority of the clients are non-verbal. Due to the nature of the people I serve, the pandemic created a huge barrier to treatment for so many clients as in-home sessions stopped. Many clients previously had 1:1 staff in their homes at least 30 hours per week and were now in quarantine without staff. Personally, I wrestled with the difficult choice of choosing my own personal safety or serving my clients.

For the first three months of the pandemic, I navigated — or attempted to navigate — the unemployment system, which was a task in itself. The amount of time I spent on the phone pressing redial and listening to a busy signal seemed to be my new full-time job. Once I finally sorted everything out, I had made the decision to go back out into the field.

By mid-May I had thought about returning to work for weeks, made several pros and cons lists and tried to separate my emotion and fear from actual reality. The reality became real to me the moment I went back into a client’s home. My company checklists, forms, temperature and pulse checks need to be filled out prior and post-session. The checklists helped me to gain a sense of safety so I could focus on doing my job and providing the best service to these families who had nothing for months. I made my choice to return to in-person sessions based on the facts that I had been given and through mentorship from my colleagues who hadn’t stopped going out to homes through the pandemic.

As I put my mask on and rang the client’s doorbell, I was greeted by a family that had such a look of relief on their faces. I had not realized that I was their lifeline, that after three long months in isolation with their child with Autism the family could get that needed break and relax in their own home. The weight of that last sentence has kept me out in homes almost three months later. The challenges that many of my clients are facing are learning to wear a mask, proper handwashing and truly comprehending the public safety issues that are our current reality. Virtual instruction can be done with some clients on the Autism Spectrum but not all, and that is the population I serve; clients close the computer screen, refuse to follow any direction. The lack of structure or schedule in their lives for months at this point has caused regression for some.

However, each day I remember that I am an essential worker and the lifeline that a family desperately hopes for. The pandemic has reminded me of the passion I have for my work as a behavioral analyst. Wearing a mask for hours is a small price to pay for such rewarding work.

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