Category Archives: Latest News

Miraculous Little Melody

The following was written by an Easter Seals Greater Houston client parent whose adorable little girl is participating in the Early Childhood Intervention Program.

Meet Melody! She is the baby of her family and the youngest of three girls. And she has each of us wrapped around each one of her precious, short, little fingers.

Melody has been a surprise from day one. It was a surprise to find out that we were expecting again at that time and even more of a surprise when we received a prenatal Down Syndrome diagnosis at 10 weeks of pregnancy. Again and again, during her development in the womb we came close to losing her, but each time she pulled through. God protected her. Knowing she would be born with multiple heart issues, we carefully planned her birth at a trusted hospital where her care team, whom we worked with during pregnancy, was ready and waiting for the big day. I was not expected to go past 36 baby Melody eci 2017 pic 2weeks of pregnancy but again Melody surprised us and waited until just two hours past her due date to make a shockingly fast and extremely dramatic appearance in her Mama’s bathtub at two in the morning with only her mommy and Daddy present. No time to get to the hospital and we barely had 911 on the phone when she decided to join us in great haste. There she was, our beautiful little baby with tons of curly dark brown hair and gorgeous brown eyes. It was a terrifying experience but thrilling to finally meet her! Talk about surprising!! By our God’s grace she was born safely and pinked up and started breathing on her own right away. It took 45 minutes for an ambulance to reach us and in that time we just held her wrapped up in a towel, cried and prayed.

We had had lots of time to prepare since we had an early prenatal diagnosis and so while she was still in the NICU we made contact with Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention and requested an evaluation for as soon as possible once she was discharged. Those days were so very exhausting with all of the feeding difficulties she had so I cannot remember the exact age that she was evaluated by these caring people with Easter Seals’ ECI program but I do know that it was swift and we started both physical and occupational therapy right away. Melody has been such a little warrior princess all along and it has been thrilling to watch her meet milestone after milestone, while we have faithfully worked​alongside our therapists. Even though for the first six baby Melody eci 2017 pic 1months she had two holes in her heart (as well as two other heart issues) multiple illnesses, both a lip and tongue tie (which were both revised at around eight months old) and serious feeding struggles, Melody continues to surprise and wow us; like when she suddenly decided to start breastfeeding at eight and a half months old when her mama had given up the dream of getting to share that bond with her. She nursed for six weeks and then she was done but those were priceless times.

She is truly such an incredible gift from God! One we never even thought to ask for ourselves, but He graciously gave anyway, knowing that we needed her in our lives. She (and her doting big sisters) fills our every day with so much joy! Melody is currently just past fourteen months old and is sitting up beautifully, crawling as fast as lighting, pulling up on everything and showing some real interest in walking! She gives enormous hugs and kisses all day long, waves hello and goodbye, drinks through a straw like a champ, has learned how to fake laugh, blows the sweetest kisses, claps her darling, square shaped, little hands and says “Yay!”. She also says “Dada” all the time much to her father’s delight. She loves everyone and literally draws crowds wherever we go. Grocery shopping with her is a nightmare. Ha! Our family is so very thankful for the Easter Seals’ ECI program and look forward to each session we have with our wonderful therapist. Melody is going to do great things with her life and Easter Seals is making for some fantastic stepping stones.

Mrs. Davis, Early Childhood Intervention client parent, Easter Seals Greater Houston

 

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Appreciating Family Dinner

The following post was written by Easter Seals Greater Houston’s longtime Early Childhood Intervention Program Community Outreach and Program Training Coordinator, Kimberly Sporrer. It shows a mere glimpse of the positive impact her hard work has had on one of countless ECI clients and families she worked with over her 21 years of dedicated service.

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I met with one of my clients today, and Audrey, Liam’s mom, discussed how much progress Liam has made since being enrolled in Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program, commonly referred to as ECI.

 

Audrey reports that she is so pleased that Liam can now let her know when he is hungry instead of whining and pointing to various food items. Additionally, Mom discussed that Liam is now able to sit with the family to eat his meals. Before ECI, he would walk around the house while taking a few bites at a time, and he would throw tantrums if made to sit in his high chair. Mom said family dinners are now stress free and so enjoyable!

Mom also stated that she is grateful that she was given the infant pic 2strategies to create a more structured environment for Liam. She discussed that Liam’s ability to anticipate events during the day (lunch, naps, bath time, etc) results in less tantrums and a calmer demeanor.

She is excited and encouraged by the rapid pace of Liam’s progress and is looking forward to hitting new milestones soon!

Kimberly Sporrer, Early Childhood Intervention Infant Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Easter Seals Greater Houston’s ECI Program helps children ages birth to 36 months with disabilities and developmental delays achieve their goals in cognitive, social/emotional, communicative, adaptive and physical development. Learn more here.

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Pretty Eyes, Chubby Thighs

baby4Madalynn is an absolutely delightful little girl who gives a big smile to everyone she meets. Her mom, Amanda, is very pleased with Madalynn’s progress and wanted to share her story.

When she was just 10 weeks pregnant, Amanda found out her baby was going to be born with Down syndrome. Amanda researched on her own and tried to educate herself on the diagnosis. Amanda thought she was prepared, but when the diagnosis of Down syndrome was confirmed after Madalynn’s birth, she emotionally had to go through the acceptance process. She shared that the hospital staff at Texas Children’s Hospital was very helpful, educating her more about the diagnosis, and referring her to Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) of Easter Seals Greater Houston.

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The assessment team came out quickly, and Madalynn began receiving ECI services at about 2 weeks old. The newborn needed OT (Occupational Therapy) due to feeding concerns. Though Amanda was worried about the feeding issues, Amanda’s biggest concern for her sweet daughter was “she was not really connected”.  Madalynn was quiet and not noticing people around her.  After receiving help from Easter Seals’ ECI, and following through with the therapist’s suggestions, Amanda was excited to see Madalynn begin to progress.  At 2 ½ – 3 months old, Madalynn started connecting with everyone around her. Today, seeing Madalynn at about 10 months old, her mom is amazed at what she can do.  Amanda admits that she initially had low expectations due to the diagnosis.  After seeing what Madalynn was capable of, her mom did not want to hold her back.  “I include her in our daily life no matter what it is, from the beach to the park, she is there playing with us.” Madalynn now sits well independently, gets from her back into a sitting position, uses her hands to play with various toys, is beginning to clap her hands, rolls and belly crawls to get toys she wants, gestures “up”, and babbles “baba”.  Feeding issues have been resolved (love those baby rolls!), and she is eating some table foods.  This quiet little baby, previously so “unconnected”, now “soaks it all in”, focuses on people, and demands their attention.baby

When asked about Easter Seals’ ECI, Amanda responded:  “I’ve learned so much from ECI.  I’ve learned tons!  With my other children, I didn’t pay attention to how they moved; they just did it.  ECI helped me realize how important the best ways to move are for her.  That’s why she’s come so far and doing what she is today.”baby3

As she described Madalynn, Amanda stated:  “She’s gives you the biggest smile ever, just talking to her.  She just brings so much joy to others.  Everywhere we go, people stop to talk to her.  Just gives everyone joy.”  Her mom also shared the exciting news:  Madalynn’s picture will be featured in the 2018 Down Syndrome Calendar.

Amanda, Early Childhood Intervention Client Parent, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Home Sweet Homeownership

If the headlines are to be believed, it’s been a tough few years for the first-time homebuyer.  Reports circulate of homes listed in the morning and under contract by the evening.  Interest rates are inching up, credit scores are tightening, and those pesky student loans mixed in with car loans and credit card debt are creating a debt-burdened buyer with little wiggle room to take on an additional mortgage.

Yet despite the unfriendly market, attendees of our Down Payment Assistance Workshop given by Easter Seals Greater Houston in The Woodlands, continue to realize their homeownership goals. As class settles in Saturday mornings, and we begin to discuss available down payment assistance programs, the conversation around the table always seem to return to two main concerns:  where am I going to get the money for down payment, and how do I dare add a mortgage payment to my already hefty debt load.

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I’m happy to say that the first question has a simple answer.  There are a variety of down payment programs designed for the homebuyer lacking the out-of-pocket funds for a home purchase which may be combined with a number of great mortgage loan products.

To the second question, there is no simple answer.  Creating a realistic budget which controls spending and reduces debt continues to be the subject of scrutiny from social scientists to behavioral economists, with agreement as to the need, but little consensus as to what constitutes a successful plan.

In our present-day digital world, the proliferation of budgeting and spending apps designed for your mobile device of choice has been overwhelming.  Mint.com, the  ‘Cadillac’ of apps, with a reported 20 million users to date, set the standard in app technology for linking all financial accounts, and with one stroke, allowed a user to monitor the flow of dollars in, dollars out.

Pocketsmith.com, referred to as a crystal ball for your bank accounts, generates what ifs scenarios through delightful images of your future if you stick to your budget –  key word here being if.

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YNAB.com, You Need a Budget app, preaches zero sum game approach, with every dollar assigned a ‘job’.  As the app says, you are in effect, the ‘maestro’ in charge of sending every dollar to its pre-determined role; i.e., savings, vacation, credit card debt, etc., before buying that impulse item.  The thinking here is that if every dollar coming in is already pledged to some expenditure, then you are less prone to splurge on that fun spur of the moment experience not included in your master plan.

As software designers have become more bold, recent apps have devised more and more ingenious ways to move dollars from the ‘to be spent’ column to savings.  For example, Acorns.com focuses on your pennies by rounding up your expenses to the next dollar and investing in a pre-determined investment portfolio.

Digit.com app takes an even bolder approach to policing your disposable income by sifting out anywhere from $5 to $50 of your fun money and stashing it safely away in a savings account.  Their website states that this dollar round-up is accomplished so surreptitiously, that “you should never notice its missing”.   (Somehow, I think I would notice!)

Yet despite all these sophisticated apps, we still struggle to control our spending.  For most of us, the recommended emergency fund of 3-6 months of living expenses remains a pipedream, and paycheck to paycheck living is far too common.

Maybe the problem is that budgeting apps have not gone far enough in making spending so unpleasant, that we are forced to become a nation of savers. If we look outside the app world of money management, you find some pretty extreme versions of self-help strategies conceived to reach your goals.

For those people who renew their New Year’s pledge every year to exercise on a regular basis, Equinox, a health club chain, has designed a chatbot that reaches out to members weekly to “encourage” them to stay on track with their exercise regime. (I think the word “encourage” here could be a euphemism for nag or hassle.)hoyo-staff-and-family-close-up

For those people who struggle to wake up mornings, there is a very annoying alarm clock called Clocky on the market which doesn’t just beep you awake, but actually jumps off your bedside table and runs off to the far corners of your room.  Needless to say, if you want to turn off Clocky’s beep, you have to get out of bed and chase it around the room. You would start your day on schedule, but probably not in a very good mood – always trade-offs!  Do we really want or need to design budgeting apps with similarly irritating functions to help us reach our financial goals?

I suggest that there are other approaches to achieving a financial stability that opens the door to homeownership.  Easter Seals Greater Houston offers a variety of classes focused on credit building and debt reduction through our HUD-certified Homebuyer Education Classes.  As a great first step towards homeownership, our Down Payment Assistance Workshop covers a range of assistance programs, mortgage products, and income/debt ratios review in determining how much house you can afford.  The combination of peer-support group classes and one-on-one counseling is invaluable in helping you create a realistic action plan that moves you forward to your goals.

The proper money management app can serve as a great budgeting tool for individuals working towards specific financial goals, but are only part of the equation.  The Easter Seals housing staff is here to provide you with comprehensive counseling services to ensure that your financial plan will take you where you want to go.

Katy Thorstenberg, Housing Program Manager, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Free Summertime Fun!

Are you looking for ways to get your children involved this Summer? Come and join one of our fun Play Groups! Our Play Groups are free and offered on Tuesday evenings (with the exception of Play-A-Palooza) at our Easter Seals main office.

Karate– Through participation in this class, IMG_3928your child will learn balance and self-control through various drills and independent lessons. These practices include training in martial arts etiquette, respect for authority and self-esteem. Using a goal setting martial arts curriculum, participants gain confidence through repetition, guidance, and praise. Karate is open to ages 6 to 18 years old. Karate is on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month from 6:00pm to 6:45pm.

 

Yoga– Yoga emphasizes stretching and breathing techniques designed to enhance development. Teachers reinforce memory, independence, and group focus! Yoga is open to ages 4 to 18 years old. Yoga is on the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month from 6:50pm to 7:35pm.

Dance– Our dancers dance, prance, and play group blog photo 3imagine what to do with a scarf – all the while not realizing that they are focusing, following directions, and using their imaginations. Dance is on the 3rd Tuesday of the month from 6:30pm to 7:15pm

 

Teen Night –Teen Night is open to teens ages 14 and up with a primary diagnosis of cerebral palsy or a similar neurological disorder with a developmental age of at least a 12-year-old. They must understand topics discussed relevant to the 12-18 year old age group. Our Teens will have an opportunity to socialize, play games, and attend a Jam Session! Teen Night is held the 1st Tuesday of every month from 6:00pm to 7:30pm.

Pet Therapy –Clients will get the opportunity to playplay group blog photo 2 with our pet therapy dogs, see tricks, and enjoy their furry company! All ages are welcome. Pet Therapy will be on the 3rd Tuesday of every month from 5:30pm to 6:30pm.

Play-A-Palooza – Our adapted Play-A-Palooza play group incorporates play and music to build cognitive and physical skills (for ages 0-5 years old). Play-A-Palooza in Stafford is held on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month from 10:30am to 11:20am. The Stafford location is 12300 Parc Crest Dr. Stafford, TX 77477.

To be added to our Easter Seals Greater Houston Play Group Database to receive weekly updates, please contact Lindsey Holton at 713-838-9050 x 309 or at lholton@eastersealshouston.org

For more information on our Play Groups please visit us at www.eastersealshouston.org

Lindsey Holton, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Director

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Exceptional Kids Deserve an Exceptional Education

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Check out two of The Caroline School‘s awesome students, Jack and Crystal, playing tag around the table!

Both students are working on the physical, social, and cognitive skills of learning at The Caroline School. Jack is out of his wheelchair and working to move his body with primarily his arms. He is playing with Crystal by visually referencing her trying to get him and sharing joy when she does. Cognitively, he is working to coordinate his eye gaze, plan and organize his path away from her, and communicate his happiness in playing. Crystal is working on the physical skills of learning by using the body scooter. She is using her arms to pull and steer her body and her neck and back muscles to keep her head up and track Jack. She is socially sharing joy and anticipation with Jack as she tries to catch him. Lastly, Crystal cognitively decides when to speed up, slow down, or change directions. Moments like these share how learning at The Caroline School is both fun and individualized!

The Caroline School at Easter Seals Greater Houston provides unique educational services to meet the physical, social and cognitive needs of individuals ages 0-21 with multiple disabilities, including those who have additional medical needs.

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With an average class size of eight students and a staff to student ratio of 1:4, The Caroline School teachers are able to meet every student at their particular level. The student’s abilities, rather than disabilities, dictate the pace and path that we follow step by step. Time and attention is invested for every student to feel safe, secure, and cared for no matter their challenges. We feel that this promotes an environment conducive to happy and healthy lifelong learners.

To get an application or schedule a tour please contact our Educational Director, Tabitha Hernandez, at thernandez@eastersealshouston.org.

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The SMART Road To Assistive Tech for ALL

In 2010, I was working at an educational non-profit when I helped to start a support group of parents and therapists where we shared information on how smartphones and touch tablets could help children with disabilities improve developmental skills. I was interested in how technology could help my youngest son Vincent, who at the age of 6 had the fine motor skills of an 18 month old. I knew that he would never write with a pen and paper, but I also knew that technology could play a big role in his early education and throughout his life.

Vincent had tried joysticks and other technology prior to the tablet to write and communicate, but he needed hand over hand assistance to operate them. However, with the iPad he was able to navigate independently. What a boost to his confidence and an ease to his frustration!

Other parents and therapists had similar thoughts but, because this mobile technology was so new, we spent hours exploring possibilities of which apps were the most helpful for our kids. We were overwhelmed by the sheer number of apps available, so we set out to find a way to make searching easier for parents and professionals. That support group and quest for solutions turned into BridgingApps, a website and program of Easter Seals Greater Houston.

Becoming part of Easter Seals Greater Houston has been a blessing in the most profound way for this program and for our family. With the help of Easter Seals’ leadership and vision to help the program grow as quickly as possible, we have been able to make great strides in its’ development and reach. In 2014, BridgingApps won the Verizon Powerful Answers Award for Education that came with a $700,000 prize.  Our website is filled with resources for people of all ages and abilities – parents, caregivers, therapists, doctors and people with disabilities – looking for the right apps to fit their needs.

We now have three assistive technology labs (Thanks to The George Foundation and ATT&T) in the Houston area and satellite support groups in Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and Fort Worth, Texas.  In 2016, we gave more than 55 presentations and trainings in Houston and around the country. Our website enjoys 9,000 registered users from 187 countries, 7,000 monthly visitors, a podcast segment, an online course, a regular column in a digital magazine, and 3,500 apps in our database. We are excited to explore new ways in which mobile technology can assist young adults with special health care needs, older adults, and seniors through collaborative projects with Texas Children’s Hospital, TIRR Memorial Hermann, Amerigroup/Anthem, UnitedHealthcare, and others.

As a veteran of the US Army, I am thrilled and honored this year to be working on a project that provides services and mental health supports to veterans and their families by using technology. Through a generous grant from TV+FA, we are able to provide technology training in different formats to veterans and their family members.  This spring we have already provided 10 Veterans Access Cafes in locations around Houston to demonstrate how smartphones can be used as a mental health support with apps like Calm, Swirlicity, and Stay Quit Coach. We continue to add content each week to www.bridgingapps.org/veteransresource  to share information on apps and other technologies that benefit veterans and their families.

Cristen Reat, Easter Seals Greater Houston, BridgingApps Founder

 

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