A Very Special Graduate Finds his Voice at Camelot Therapeutic School
One day before his 22nd birthday, Craig Chappell received his high school diploma at Camelot of the Quad Cities, a therapeutic day school in Moline, Illinois. The event capped Craig’s nearly four-year tenure with Camelot, a time marked by great progress.
Craig has autism and is unable to speak, so he communicates through a device. He also uses sign language, and he has a set of cards on his desk with images that he uses to help him communicate.
“The public high school was not equipped to accommodate Craig, so his parents and the district entrusted him to us,” said Camelot of Quad Cities Executive Director, Deb Singley. “Having staff trained to understand Craig’s needs, what his positive strengths were and what his triggers were, helped a great deal in developing a program that proved to be successful. Camelot gave him his voice!”
Craig started using a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) which allows people with little or no communication abilities to communicate using pictures. He then moved on to an iPad which included a program that Camelot’s speech and language pathologist programmed to communicate audibly when someone taps the picture.
In addition to his studies at Camelot, Craig enjoyed music therapy with the school’s board-certified music therapist.
“Craig really likes the guitar and the ocean drum,” said paraprofessional Amanda Laffredi, whose job it was to accompany and assist Craig at all times. “He and his music therapist performed a piece at the graduation ceremony. Completing high school and participating in a full graduation was important for Craig and his family.”
As it does with all of the older students as part of their transition, Camelot got Craig out into the community, including performing some vocational work.
“That is an important element for our older students,” Singley said. “Craig went to a local food bank where they prepared boxes for clients to pick up. He also went to Gigi’s Playhouse, a place for families with children with Down syndrome where he would help with some clerical tasks. He likes a routine, so he is fastidious about his tasks.”
Through an organization called Respect Abilities, he began making string art. Now that he has graduated, he is continuing to do that and selling his art at a business called The Craft Corner.
“Our job coach and Amanda would go with him to help him get used to the placement and what the job expectations were so that, when he left our school, his parents could continue on with him there, and it wasn’t just leaving cold turkey without having that transition in place,” Singley noted.
How much time each individual spends per day in a job depends on what they are able to do. Some are able to work for hours. Craig may only be able to work a couple of hours a day before it gets too overwhelming. He is paid for whatever artwork he is able to make and sell to people while there.
“He designed and sold a total of five pieces of art in April and made $72,” his father Tom Chappell proudly said, “which we put into his trust account.”
His parents believe Craig can build on his four years at Camelot and continue to participate in productive engagement.
“If you hold out hope as a teacher for kids, you will communicate that to your kids, and Camelot did that for Craig,” explained Mr. Chappell. “Craig felt confident and comfortable there. He’s now much calmer and more socially aware. That’s all a result of attending Camelot.”
“That’s why Illinois has programs like Camelot therapeutic day schools, for students who need more,” Singley said. “And that’s why the district decided to refer him to us. We were the correct placement for him.”
Craig’s mother Lydia works in special education in the Moline School District and was a very strong supporter of the Camelot program.
“She always donates things to the campus and our students, whether it was a wreath for our door or a Camelot sign or banner, treats for the staff – just very supportive of our mission and our students,” Singley said.
For Camelot and the Chappell family, the love and caring was clearly a two-way street.