Staff Spotlight: Daniel Klanica

“The best part of my job is witnessing the progress that the children and adolescents that I work with make. Their progress never comes overnight and is more of a gradual process, when it does happen, there is nothing better or rewarding than that,” said Daniel Klanica, a Therapist II in Wesley’s Wonder Kids (WK) program.

While the idea of progress being made in small steps is not a unique or new concept, it is an overarching theme and guiding principle that is embedded in every program and initiative that Wesley offers, especially in the WK program.

Daniel has been with Wesley for two years and works out of the Penn Hills office. There, he is partially responsible for managing 16 social skills groups that meet weekly for three hours. In the 16 social groups Daniel manages, he has more than 78 participants who range in ages from 5 to 21 years old. Each week, WK participants discuss topics like conversation maintenance, bullying, and the importance of friendships, which help to address issues that arise during social settings. During their meeting, WK participants also have the opportunity to do an art project, participate in gross motor games/activities, eat a snack, and have sensory relaxation time.

WK provides therapeutic and social relationship interventions designed to teach and enhance age-appropriate social skills for those who have an Autism Spectrum or Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder diagnosis. WK is a step-down from traditional Behavioral Health Rehabilitation Services (BHRS) or other intensive behavioral health service which typically will teach the prerequisite skills necessary to benefit from a social skills group. WK may also be utilized as a stand-alone service or as an appropriate part of an intensive behavioral health discharge plan.

In order for a child to be eligible for WK, they must meet the following criteria:

  • have a current Autism Spectrum or Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder Diagnosis;
  • be between the ages of 5 and 21 years old;
  • have Medical Assistance (MA);
  • is able to consistently attend WK, has reliable transportation, and can be dropped off/picked up on time; and
  • has a current, appropriate psychological evaluation recommending a social skills group for a set number of hours

“Wonder Kids is a truly special program that Wesley offers and I’ve seen lives changed. I’ve been able to work with kids, who when they first enrolled in the program didn’t have any friends and found it hard to relate to other people. Then you see them become more comfortable with their peers and over time, they’ve been able to make friends. I’ve also been able to work with young adults who I’ve seen finish high school and pursue college, when at one point they weren’t sure if that could be an option for them,” said Daniel. He added, “When I’m asked about WK and asked to explain what we do, I like to tell folks that we help kids and adolescents build upon their current set of social skills—whatever that level might be. Our ultimate goal is to help them become as independent as possible.”

Once parents come to terms and understand that their child was diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum or having a Social (Pragmatic) Communication Disorder and are starting to receiving help, Daniel said that from his experience their next thought becomes the future.

“I’ve found that parents, as their child ages and understandably so, become most stressed when they think about the ‘what-ifs’. They are worried about their child’s school; if their child will make friends; and will their child be able to learn a trade or go to college. When I talk to parents, I just try to remind them that progress does not happen instantaneously, it’s a process. That’s why we all work in this field—we want to help their child with their journey.”