Tag Archives: Adults with Disabilities

Pilot Program for Service Dogs… gone virtual..not to the dogs

My name is Bryan Cream and I am an Army Veteran who served eight years as a Chaplain Assistant. During my time, I served in many great units but I was lucky enough to serve my two tours in Afghanistan with the 101st Airborne Division. During Deployment, I do not recall any one specific event that caused damage to me physically. Overtime, my body deteriorated due to nothing more than I can explain as wear and tear. After eight years of climbing the ranks to E-6 or Staff Sergeant, I was Medically Discharged because my body had failed me. The next five years were very tough for me to accept my new life in the Civilian world.

As a Chaplain Assistant, I was responsible for ensuring the Soldiers and their families spiritual needs were met and that they maintained a level of mental strength and preparedness. Now, I am perceived as a Disabled Veteran and not able help myself. Through time and a lot of effort, I was able to accept and handle the mental impact of it all but now I am left with physical limitations that will certainly get worse with time.

Over the years, I dreamed of having a service dog to help me navigate life with the challenges that I am facing, but I never wanted to take a place from a Veteran that had Combat related injuries. Shortly after buying our first home, we found a beautiful Black Lab who we fell in love with and named her Lucie. We had her for about two months before I saw an ad from Easter Seals advertising their great program that offered a path to a Service Dog for Disabled Veterans. Not only did it offer training for Lucie but for myself as well.

The Easter Seals Pilot Service Dog Training Program has obviously gone virtual given the pandemic we are experiencing.  I am only halfway through this 10-week course; I am already seeing drastic changes and impressive results. Lucie has gone from a hyperactive puppy with a few basic commands to a 5-month-old puppy who I am able to trust in public.

The commands she is able to recognize and execute are sit, laydown, stay, wait, left, right, up, down and off. She is able to walk alongside a shopping cart in a public store without any issues. She is able to stay in the down position while I am twenty feet away for an extended period with multiple distractions.

Beyond the commands, I have learned to notice the small details and to listen to my dog. Building a bond with Lucie to make sure she knows where my next step or turn is. Allie (Easter Seals’ Trainer via My Service Dog) has been by Lucie, and my side throughout this course. Helping me see the small successes with Lucie and myself. She has taught me how to be patient with Lucie and most importantly, patient with myself through this training opportunity. Although, she is not quite a full-time service dog, I have faith that she will be there before too long. I look forward to working with Lucie some more and have her fully trained to be my companion in my any challenges I have to face.

Retired Staff Sergeant, Bryan Cream, Easter Seals Greater Houston Client

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest News

Connecting within the Veteran & Senior Communities During CoVid, Part 2 Therapist Focus/Mental Health

We interviewed our Easter Seals Greater Houston Veterans Services clinical therapy team, Dr. Cristy Gamez, Dr. Amy Harkins, Susana Lewandowski LMFT, and Erica Toskovich LMFT, to learn about the challenges COVID-19 has brought to clients, particularly Veterans and seniors, seeking mental health supports.

 What are the challenges of COVID-19 on Veterans and seniors? 

Isolation is a key symptom of PTSD.  Approaching, rather than avoiding people and crowds and shopping centers is one of the main interventions used in therapy to reduce isolation in Veterans with PTSD.  Right now, we can’t use this validated behavioral approach.  We are actually telling people who isolate to stay at home, trust less, and be afraid of invisible “wee-beasties”.  Adapting therapy approaches to the current reality is a challenge.

Veteran clients who have struggled to keep themselves and their families safe during normal times are stretched to be even more hyper-vigilant, alert, on guard.  They are alert to the illness as well as to social implications of the illness – they know what desperate people will do to survive.  It’s normal for Veterans to “turn worry into action” – but that action can be positive or negative.

For some seniors, it feels too late/too hard to move to telehealth. Many have tech but don’t know how to use it. It’s hard to coach when you can’t see what they see. Saying “just click on the link I sent you” doesn’t work when someone has a visual impairment, and when a person with a hearing impairment can’t read my lips or see my visual cues, therapy doesn’t work.

For both populations, issues with using telehealth include lack of privacy, problems with connection like feedback or delays, increased demands because of work or kids at home, and newfound financial anxieties.

How do we know telehealth is good?

Technology in general has so many positives.  Phones and computers allow people to talk and see others, and to utilize apps that help get basic needs met, help calm, and facilitate sleep.  Mental health apps like Calm are very useful.  Clients often share screen shots of step trackers – to show how they are moving more.  Some clients like to use a mood tracker – to gauge patterns and trends in their mood.  Sleep stories are a great resource to help client fall asleep.  Some wearable technologies can track sleep.  I had a client put the Crisis Response Plan for suicide prevention as his screensaver – that’s a great idea.

We have data showing that telehealth is good.  Just this week we saw 25% more people than we saw last week.  We had our lowest ever percent of no-shows (7%), which is very low.  Oftentimes telehealth, which allows clients to be in a space they are already comfortable in, also allows for “the work” to get started quicker during a session.  We have seen that telehealth clients are more proactive, compliant, and responsible.

What more could technology do? 

We will need ways to alert people in case of an emergency built into the devices/platforms we use.  We need HIPAA compliant virtual group meeting platforms, ways to interact with kids virtually that allows for play, and therapeutic virtual games for all ages for single and multiplayer.  We need secure platforms that are HIPAA complaint, can maintain EHR, have tele-health capabilities, are cost effective, easily customizable, and that allow for intra- and inter-agency communication.

And, pie in the sky, we need all of the above in a format that doesn’t overwhelm our clients.  There is a steep learning curve.  The more simple and intuitive the interface the better.

We also wonder how technology could… help with hygiene promotion… improve trust and confidence with the health care system… increase access to accurate information and education about all sudden crises.  Technology is and can change the face of how we provide all services, including mental health.

Overall we are incredibly proud of our mental health team and the word they have done and continue to during the CoVid19 Pandemic. We are equally as proud of our clients!
Christine Ellery, Program Director, Veterans Services, Texas Veterans + Family Alliance, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest News

I am More than my Disability

QUY_6906

We are working with Comcast Cable on their new eye gaze remote control for the TV which Time magazine says is one of the best inventions of 2019! Comcast Xfinity X1 Eye Control is one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2019 We are very excited that our Easter Seals Greater Houston client, Alexis, was able to join us to help with the demo. Alexis’ unique way of communicating enables her to use her eyes as her mouse to navigate her on-screen keyboard and other pages of information on her tablet. AND makes her the perfect person to demonstrate the new EYE CONTROL remote for TV from Comcast! For more information on the Eye C9ontrol remote please contact Comcast! Read more about Alexis and her story below!

Alexis is a twenty-three-year-old young adult that has a physical disability known as Cerebral Palsy or (CP) which affects her muscle control of her upper and lower body extremities. She uses a wheelchair for mobility and is non-verbal. Her mother states that ” Alexis has a very sharp mind” and often described by others as a very talented young lady with such an awesome personality, a great sense of humor and is known for her beautiful contagious smile that will light up an entire room.

Alexis currently utilizes a Microsoft Pro Surface Tablet which is a Windows Base computer with the capability of eye-tracking technology to meet her communication needs. The eye-tracking technology also has a camera built-in with infrared lighting that tracks and follows the use of the retinas of her eyes as she navigates her computer (tablet) and her on-screen keyboard.  Alexis’ unique way of communicating enables her to use her eyes as her mouse to navigate her on-screen keyboard and other pages of information on her tablet. QUY_6916.JPG

To help get a better understanding of what it means to Alexis to have access to this type of advanced technology it has not only given her independence and ”  a voice” to independently communicate her own thoughts, feelings, wants, needs,  likes and dislikes, but it has also given her the ability to carry on an efficient conversation with family, friends, and individuals as she looks /dwells on a specific letter, word or phrase by just the use of eye gaze. The computer then immediately makes the information readily available to be typed and seen on her screen and has the capability to put her tablet into a voice output mode similar to (text to speech) to generate a voice to speak/ read aloud Alexis’ word , sentence, and/ or any other information that she has composed. This advanced type of assistive technology also continues to help support Alexis with the necessary tools she needs to continue to strengthen her self -advocacy skills. She is also able to text, email and access the internet. She is known by her family as the ” Queen of Amazon ” as she browses and makes purchases independently and always seems to have something saved in ” her cart”.

Alexis enjoys her leisurely time attending and participating in a wide variety of community events with her family and friends. She loves going on road trips, to parks,  The Rodeo, movies, the Mall, watching Netflix, Hulu, is always up for a good read and spending time with her yellow lab “Jasmine” at various dog events and visiting various dog parks.

Alexis wants to reach out to the community with a friendly reminder that her disability doesn’t define who she is … she doesn’t want people to identify her as ” the young lady with a disability “, ” the girl with Cerebral Palsy ” or ” the girl in the wheelchair”. She would like to be known by everyone as Alexis first and foremost. Alexis really appreciates when individuals see past her wheelchair and her disability and recognize her for her unique abilities instead of focusing on her disability.

Despite the daily challenges and barriers that Alexis faces she has many similar goals, dreams, and aspirations as her able-bodied peers. Alexis was educated alongside her able-bodied peers while attending public school from elementary thru her high school years. As her High School peers were doing the ” volunteer thing” she was given those same opportunities, she volunteered in the summer and really enjoyed giving back to her community. Alexis was able to develop new friendships and enlarge her friendship circle as well as gain new work-related skills while volunteering, which she hopes to be able to reach.  Her current goal is working really hard on things that will enable her to carry over those work-related skills along with her technology skills to possibly gain employment soon with a local business in her community.  She really feels that when given the proper training and supports and implementing her unique technology skills that she can be an asset to local business ‘.

Alexis wants to send a ” shout out” to everyone out in the community and if you happen to see Alexis when your “out and about ”  please take a moment to stop by and introduce yourself! She is really looking forward to meeting you and would love to chat!

Alexis Mendoza, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Client and Alexis’ Mom

QUY_6899

1 Comment

Filed under Latest News

Looking to Volunteer?

Adult Program Rodeo

Know any retired, hardworking individuals that need something to focus their energy on?? We are the perfect group!! Our program could not function without dependable volunteers on our team! I currently have 5-7 volunteers that are volunteering with me on Mondays and Wednesdays at Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Adult Life Enrichment Program (LEAD) but I am in search of 1 – 3 more long term volunteers.73087196_2745919965427523_4184794379765940224_n

Why volunteer with our LEAD program? Hear from our volunteers yourself:

“My volunteering with Easter Seals’ program is the most enjoyable thing I do all week. The participants are genuinely friendly, warm and accepting of everyone, group members and volunteers alike. It is easy to volunteer because the activities are well planned and always interesting. But the most valuable thing to me is experiencing relationships with persons who have faced a lot of struggles and yet remain upbeat lovers of life. I find that inspiring. And, no group has more fun than we do!”

– Linda Meriwether, 5 years

“When I decided to retire from teaching after 33 years, I knew I needed to find something for me to do to occupy my time a few days a week.  When I was growing up, my mom did volunteer work for an organization in Indianapolis and I remember how much she loved it.  Easter Seals has been very special for me.  I feel I have found another family and I am very humbled to be able to work with these outstanding adults and young adults.  They brighten my day each time I go to group.  I leave every time feeling fulfilled after working with Ashley and the other terrific helpers. I know the adults and young adults have a wonderful experience every time we meet.”

-Tom Clancy, 7 years

“I ALWAYS look forward to Mondays and Wednesdays when I volunteer at the LEAD program. This is an amazing program!  It is so much fun to spend time with the clients and visit with the other volunteers. This is a very important program to the clients because most don’t have many other social-enrichment activities in their lives, and this program has allowed them to form friendships and have fun.  It is personally fulfilling to volunteer my time to this program.  I have had many blessings in my life, and this is a chance to ‘give back’”.  -Paul Smith, 4 years

“For more than nine years I’ve really enjoyed volunteering with the  Easter Seals Houston’s LEAD program… Working with everyone makes my day and week and year. I am blessed to have this opportunity to change lives for good and I get much more than what I put in. I am thankful for the chance to make a difference and have so much fun.” -Alyson Gershenson, 9 years

28928136_1626804460730847_109134017_o

Details:

– Mondays and/or Wednesdays

– 9am to 12pm: 12pm to 3pm; or all day 9am to 3pm

– Memorial area at two different churches: MDPC and MDUMC; occasional field trips to movies, mall, sporting events, etc.

– what is LEAD? Life-enriching program for adults with varying disabilities which meets twice a week. Activities include: dance, yoga, crafts, music, games, karaoke, and more!

– duties: help individuals with varying disabilities participate in activities scheduled by Program Coordinator; assist with meals (serving and feeding); activity set-up and clean up; ensure the safety of all participants; encourage independence and participation of participants; work as a team with other volunteers and Program Coordinator

– must be able to pass background check

–  must be compassionate and caring; willing to learn how to work with all individuals no matter level of disability

– Preference: Personal reference of reliable volunteer; member of one of the two affiliated churches (MDPC & MDUMC)

Ashley Nichols, Easter Seals Greater Houston,  Program Manager, Adult and Recreation Services

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest News

LEADing with the Dogs

Adult blog1

“Each Monday and Wednesday are a certain kind of special to me, as I get to hang out with our LEAD (Life Enrichment for Adults with Disabilities) Adult Programs at Easter Seals Greater Houston. We have two programs based on age: 18 – 30-year-olds and 30+-year-olds. In the morning, we have 20 young adults who get together to socialize, dance, craft, exercise, and sing. Is there a better way to start your morning? I am lucky enough to get to watch these newly graduated young adults find themselves in their community. We intentionally include outside Zumba and yoga teachers, so our adults have more opportunities to interact with new faces and make new friends. Once a month, we are beginning to include a therapy dog group called Believe in Dog Therapy. Boy oh boy, was I unprepared for the giggles, new conversations and bonding opportunities that these dogs gave to our young adults last month. These dogs provided chances for stress-free conversations, sensory time with their fur and licks, as well as practicing turn-taking and gentle touches, all of which our adults can struggle with on a daily basis. This past week, during dog therapy, we re-cycled old t-shirts and jeans to make dog toys for a local shelter called Houston Pets Alive. Again, how lucky am I? Houston Pets Alive is pretty excited too. Stay tuned for more pics of the group making the toys and donating them!

If you want to join in on the fun by volunteering with us, please contact me: Ashley Nichols – ANichols@eastersealshouston.org

Believe in Dog Therapy’s Website: https://believeindogtherapy.com/

Ashley Nichols, Program CoordinatorEaster Seals Greater Houston

Adult blog 3
Adult blog 5

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest News

Samantha’s Communication Device gets an Update!

Last Spring, Sam transitioned from using a limited auditory scanning device to a device with unlimited app-based software using auditory scanning to communicate!samantha 1

Many of the parents who have come to Easter Seals Greater Houstons’  The Caroline School have done so out of a desire to find a more individualized education for their child – a school that would focus on the whole child, their physical, social, and cognitive development.

That’s exactly what Samantha’s family found. Sam began at The Caroline School a year ago and since has embarked on many educational changes. She worked on her physical skills by using her stander in the classroom and engaging in yoga stretches with support. She focused on her social skills by using both non-verbal gestures (smiles and singing), as well as her new communication device to share love and joy with her friends and teachers. Working on the physical and social aspects of learning, perfectly positioned Sam to grow her cognitive skill set as well! She used her new communication device to engage in lessons and home-to-school connection questions and activities. For example, she completed an “All About Me” project to share with the class.

Sam’s collective team of teachers, parents, ESGH therapists and nurses are so proud of her hard work! We can’t wait to begin her Senior year here at The Caroline School! It will surely be the best year yet.samantha 2

Tabitha Hernandez, Easter Seals Greater Houston, The Caroline School Director

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest News

Lucky Strike!

I’m Emily Padora and I have been interning with Easter Seals Greater Houston for the past few months. I am supervised by Ashley Nichols, the Adult Program Director, which means I get the privilege of hanging out with these wonderful adults twice a week. Just last Saturday, I got to go bowling with a few of them! I expected it to be fun, as most things are with these guys, but it was more than just fun— it was heartwarming.IMG_1645.JPG

Each participant got their own lane, with accommodations based off their individual needs, to bowl for as long as their hearts desired until it was time to go. I loved seeing how happy just a simple game of bowling made the participants and enjoyed watching them make strikes, splits, or just celebrating hitting a pin. It was truly something else. I also got to speak with the mother and sister of two of our participants; they were sharing with me how much they appreciate what Easter Seals and the Adult Program has done for them and their family. The mother was almost in tears, expressing to me that most people outside of this organization and program don’t pay much attention to her boys. It makes me happy and proud to be working with an organization and program that promotes growth and encourages inclusion and individuality.

 

Thank you!

 

Emily Padora, Easter Seals Greater Houston Intern

Leave a comment

Filed under Latest News