New Jersey is known for its outstanding services for children with an autism spectrum disorder. Yet some parents still cannot access quality resources. “It is still a fight. It is still a struggle to find help for parents when they really need crisis care,” said Danielle Cicalese, an alumna of Caldwell’s master’s in applied behavior analysis.
That need is why she leads a team at Crossroads School in Westfield, New Jersey where they provide quality education and instruction to students whose parents might not otherwise have had access to evidence-based interventions.
As supervisor of curriculum and instruction, Cicalese and her colleagues serve children who are often underserved or marginalized. Some travel from as far as Jersey City and Newark, and many face food and housing insecurity. It is her passion to use her professional skills and knowledge in applied behavior analysis to help the students achieve their potential.
Crossroads is funded by the Union County Educational Services Commission and is run “like a mom-and-pop shop. We keep it that way on purpose,” said Cicalese. The school uses a collaborative model to ensure that all of the services provided to the students are data-driven, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, teaching, and behavior analysis.
The Caldwell University ABA graduate program prepared Cicalese for this work. In the Caldwell Center for Autism and ABA, she served highly challenged learners and put into practice what she was learning in the classroom. “It gave me the confidence to go into any situation. The rigor sets you up for success. You have all the doctorate BCBAs (board-certified behavior analysts) overseeing you all the time,” said Cicalese, who was the first Caldwell student to earn the five-year combined bachelor’s in psychology and master’s in ABA. She also earned the Teacher of Students with Disabilities certification at Caldwell as well as her certificate in Administration, and while working on her thesis, she pursued alternate route education certification in New Jersey, all while raising her own five children.
The relationships she built at Caldwell with the professors and with other students who are now professionals are imperative to her practice today. “I have those people I can fall back on,” said Cicalese, noting she had “three texts already this morning.” They are what she calls her “collegiate think tank. I know I can call Dr. Ruth DeBar right now for advice.”
One of the most gratifying aspects is being able to teach other educators—seeing teachers learn to implement ABA in the classroom when they previously were using non-evidence-based practice, especially seeing those teachers help other staff with similar strategies.
That is what helps the students make strides. “Our students show courage, perseverance, and strength daily. They work so hard to learn the things that come so easily to other students. The really small steps are a huge success. You learn to hold on to those successes,” said Cicalese. “I learn every day. It is usually the kids who teach me.”