Adaptive Communication

When a person is not able to communicate effectively using typical speech, he sometimes uses communication methods that are adapted to his current abilities. These may include use of pictures, sign language or devices such as iPads.


To make it known to others that something is important to them. People can advocate for themselves or for others.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA is a specific clinical model for development of adaptive skills and management of maladaptive behavior based primarily on an analysis of the function of specific defined behavior. It is most often used with children with autism, but can also be used for other children and adults.


A developmental condition that affects social interactions, communication and repetitive behavior. A person with autism may or may not also have an intellectual disability.

Behavior Clinician

A staff member that is responsible for using clinical models and techniques such as Positive Behavior Support and Applied Behavior Analysis to develop individualized support and intervention plans for students and adults in Abilities First programs who demonstrate the need for such plans.

Behavioral Health

This term generally refers to psychological well-being, or the absence of mental health symptoms.

Care Coordination

A services that involves the creation of a Life Plan which guides a person’s total plan of services, and organizes goals for improved health and developmental outcomes. The Care Coordinator typically helps a person find the service that are right for her.

Care Coordination Organization (CCOs)

A company that provides Care Coordination, such as LIFEPLan CCO. As required by NYS, CCOs provide only Care Coordination and no other services. Conversely, organizations like Abilities First provide a full array of services but no Care Coordination. The purpose for this separation is to keep Care Coordination “conflict free”.

Cerebral Palsy

A condition primarily involving muscle stiffness, weak muscles and tremors which can affect movement, sensation, swallowing and speaking. People with Cerebral Palsy may or may not also have an intellectual disability.

Committee on Special Education (CSE)

Each public school district has a CSE that makes decisions about special education services such as placement and individualized plans and goals. All students that attend Abilities First School are referred by their home school district’s CSE.

Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE)

Each public school district has a CPSE that makes decisions about preschool special education services such as placement and individualized plans and goals. All children that attend Abilities First Preschool are referred by their home school district’s CPSE.

Day Habilitation Without Walls (WOW)

A day service for adults that desire maximum community integration. The term “without walls” does not mean that there are literally no walls. In fact, the program has a facility it uses for home base. It simply means that there is a great deal of freedom in this program to move around the community engaging in meaningful activities.


A traditional term that generally means a person has a condition that makes it difficult for them to do things that those without disabilities can do. While we try to minimize use of this term because it emphasizes people’s limitations rather than strengths, it is sometimes necessary for diagnostic and funding purposes.

Down Syndrome

A genetic condition with certain physical features and usually mild intellectual disability. Many people with Down Syndrome have overcome obstacles in life to become very successful and independent.


The process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs and habits. We believe all children and adults can benefit from quality education.


This term is often used to describe a particular therapeutic treatment or educational model, and it means the treatment or model has been subjected to rigorous scientific testing that demonstrated it is effective – or more effective than other treatments or models.


The acquisition of certain skills required for a self-sufficient life.

Health Home

This is a specific kind of Care Coordination Organization used in NYS and other states across the country. It is not an actual home or physical place, but rather a way to deliver Care Coordination.

Home and Community Based Services (HCBS)

New York State has an agreement with the Federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to provide services to people with disabilities that are community-based alternatives to older institutional services. These are known as Home and Community Based Services.

Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Each student identified as having a disability has an IEP which guides his or her educational goals and states their needs for accommodations and supports. The IEP is developed by students’ teachers and other staff in collaboration with parents and the Committee on Special Education.

Individualized Service Plan (ISP)

Under the current OPWDD Medicaid Service Coordination model, the ISP is the individualized service plan that identifies a person’s valued outcomes and array of services. As MSC transitions to Care Coordination, all ISPs will be transformed into Life Plans. For each person this transition will happen sometime after July 1, 2018 and before the end of 2019.


The practice of including people with special needs in all aspects of typical community life. Abilities First believes that if integration occurs naturally in a setting (e.g., classroom, place of work, residential neighborhood, etc.), the ratio of people with disabilities to those without should approximate what is found in the total population. That is, less than or equal to 20% people with disabilities.

Integrated Supportive Housing

A multiple-unit housing community where 20% or fewer of the units are for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and tenants with special needs live among those without disabilities.

Intellectual & Developmental Disability (IDD)

Conditions that affect intellectual and adaptive functioning (i.e., everyday living skills) and occur in the developmental years – prior to age 22. There are many causes and types of IDD. Some common forms are Autism, Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome.

Job Developer

Someone who helps people with special needs locate job opportunities.

Job Coach

Someone who provides support or training on the job to ensure success.

Life Plan

A plan that identifies all of the necessary services that a person needs as well as goals for improved health and welfare.


The Care Coordination Organization associated with Abilities First and 23 other service providers across the Hudson Valley. As of July 1, 2018, LIFEPlan CCO provides Care Coordination to children and adults with IDD.


The health insurance program that funds many services for people with IDD.

Medicaid Service Coordination (MSC)

The coordination of various services for IDD. Starting July 1, 2018 MSC will transition into Care Coordination offered LIFEPLan CCO and other Care Coordination Organizations.

NYS Education Department (NYSED)

The state office that administers education programs including private Special Education and Universal Prekindergarten programs like those offered by Abilities First. This also includes some employment services authorized by the Adult Career and Continuing Education Services – Vocational Rehabilitation (ACCES-VR).

NYS Office for Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services (OASAS)

The state office that administers state funded alcohol and substance abuse treatment programs.

NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD)

The state office that administers programs and services for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including but not limited to Service Coordination/Care Coordination, Community Habilitation, Respite, Employment Services, Adult Day Services and Residential Services.

NYS Office of Child and Family Services (OCFS)

The state office that licenses and oversees programs for children and families, such Abilities First Preschool Programs.

NYS Office of Mental Health (OMH)

The state office that administers programs, treatments and services for people with mental health conditions. Some Abilities First employment programs are partially funded by OMH.

Occupational Therapy

Professional assessment and interventions used to help people develop and maintain essential skills needed for independence and self-sufficiency.

Personal Outcome Measure (POM)

In the Council on Quality and Leadership (CQL) model, there are 21 Personal Outcome Measures (POMs) that are designed as indicators of person-centered services. They cover themes such as personal security, community, relationships, choices and personal goals.

Physical Therapy

Professional assessment and intervention used to help people develop and maintain physical control and mobility.

Positive Behavior Support (PBS)

A philosophy and behavior management system where clinicians seek to understand the motivations behind maladaptive behavior and replace with functional responses that achieve the same or similar outcomes.


A break from caregiving.


When a person assumes decision making authority for himself. Such decisions can be related to employment, education, finances, where to live, what services to accept and many other things.

Special Education Teacher

A credentialed professional educator that specializes in teaching those with special needs.

Speech Language Therapy

Evaluation, diagnosis and intervention used to help people overcome challenges to communication, including but not limited to pragmatics, literacy, voice difficulties and cognitive effects on communication.

Supervised Residence

A group residence for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that is staffed 24/7 and designed to meet moderate to intensive support and management needs.

Supportive Residences

A group or individual residence for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities that is staffed less than 24/7 and designed to assist people living semi-independently.

Teacher Aide

A staff member that assists with the delivery of special education services in the classroom.

Teacher Assistant

An assistant to a special education teacher. This staff member helps prepare lessons and sometimes delivers material to students under the supervision of the Special Education Teacher.

Think Differently

The Dutchess County initiative designed to make our community more inclusive and accepting of children and adults with special needs (Learn more about this initiative).

Transition Services

Specific services designed to help school students make a smooth and effective transition to adulthood.

Uncertified Program

An OPWDD program that is not certified by NYS. These are desirable programs for some because they offer maximum flexibility and independence.