For the #WeekOfTheYoungChild & in celebration of #OccupationalTherapyMonth, the Children’s Therapy Clinic is celebrating the success of Jonathan M. and his Occupational Therapist, Alysia Cummings. Jonathan is 8 years old and has been with the Clinic since age three after graduating from the ECI program. He currently receives OT and speech therapy 1x/week and attends public school. Mom shared his therapy has helped him participate at school and be successful in Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) at home. His OT, Alysia, shared Jonathan has taken really well to visual aids and written schedules. He is working on tying shoes, bathing independently, brushing his teeth, toileting hygiene, buttoning, and handwriting. At home, he uses visual aids for his morning routine, bathing and tooth brushing. Mom said he is able to follow the schedules very well; and has increased his independence. To increase his participation in the Clinic session, Alysia writes a schedule on the board, which encourages him to participate much more easily than he used to. Mom shared it is the everyday progress that has made such a big difference for Jonathan. Check out more info on our Children’s Therapy Clinic at Easter Seals Greater Houston
Tag Archives: at risk students
To Celebrate the Month of the Young Child, The Caroline School would like to introduce you to Azeneth and Alexa!
Azeneth enjoys exploring a sensory box for more than her set goal time and Alexa enjoys helping her friend, by picking things up that are falling from her desk and putting them back (without teacher prompting). We here at The Caroline School at Easter Seals Greater Houston applaud both young learners for how hard they work and how amazing they are.
Check out all our Caroline School offers to our students and parents!
While there are countless ways that my job is fulfilling, sometimes, there are stories that really take the cake. My job is to help youth gain the skills they need to become successful members of their communities. Success will, of course, look different for each of them as they plan their futures and set their own goals. If I have been successful at my own job, they will all have the confidence and support to pursue whatever “success” looks like to them.
I’ve learned over the last seven years that there is often a lot of potential hiding behind a seemingly quiet student. Norma Puente is my favorite example of this. When I first started working with her at Margaret Long Wisdom High School, she largely kept to herself but would always participate when it was asked of her. Her sweet demeanor and the kindness she always showed to her classmates (and her ability to avoid joining in when all the students around her started to get rowdy) lead me to invite her to our annual Ready to Achieve Mentoring Program Conference in Washington D.C. that summer. Never having been on a plane, she was equal parts excited and nervous, but ultimately so proud of being considered for the opportunity and representing Houston.
When we arrived in D.C., there were students from RAMP sites around the country and without a hint of nerves or trepidation, they all became fast friends. I’ve heard so many stories over the years from these students that making friends was hard for them, but at this conference, you’d absolutely never know it. There is an immediate sense of camaraderie and any walls that they had up fall with breakneck fervor. I’ve never left this annual conference without crying at least once. These kids are truly inspiring…and putting them all together in one room? It’s something to behold.
Part of being invited to the conference is that each student has to deliver a presentation about their future career goals or projects they’ve worked on at their respective RAMP sites that school year. Norma chose to present on Criminology which would soon be her college major. The previously reserved student lit up with apparent passion when she got to talk about her future. She would be the first member of her family to go to college. She would help people who needed her. She would make something of herself – and she couldn’t wait to do any of it.
Norma was then given the opportunity to join local students at the Teen and Police Service Academy; an important and amazing partnership between the Houston Police Department and the University of Houston Clear Lake designed for at-risk youth and police officer mentors. She said it made her feel like a leader and made her confident in speaking in front of groups all while giving her more insight into the future she was carefully preparing for herself. The next summer, I asked her to return to Washington D.C. with me. She was the leader of the pack; guiding all the students who attended and offering encouragement to nervous students giving their presentations for the first time. During a long silence where a student couldn’t bring himself to speak from fear, she stood up, told us all to cheer him on, and got us all clapping. After that, he gave a great presentation. And I really looked at Norma in awe.
She graduated high school in 2019 and has gotten right to work since then. She is working at Care Optical where she deals with prescriptions and sealing glasses and she is enrolled at Houston Community College in their Criminology Program – yep, the first one in her family to go to college. When she graduates, she plans to attend the police academy and go for her Bachelor’s degree in Criminology.
I keep in touch with Norma and when I recently asked her if she thinks RAMP helped her, she responded:
“RAMP helped me in so many ways. This program helped me get on track with my career path and to think ahead to the future. It helped me to grow and allowed me to come out of my bubble and interact with other people with no problem. It made me a leader and because of this program I can say I have grown as a person and am doing better. It made me want to keep up with my studies and to become someone.”
I’m proud to be a part of her story and I am so proud to know her and all the incredible students I meet through Easter Seals Greater Houston’s RAMP and Transition Programs. If you’re wondering, being a mentor will never waste a single minute of your time.
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
Today we want to spotlight Cali, a high school senior from Willis High School who is finishing her senior year online and working nearly full time at Tractor Supply Company. Cali also makes time to participate remotely in our Easter Seals Greater Houston High School High Tech Program weekly chats and lessons despite her busy schedule. Cali, joined HSHT as a sophomore and was extremely nervous about her first mock interview day. She had never had a job before nor had she ever applied for or interviewed for one. As part of our curriculum, we teach students how to properly complete a job application, how to dress, how to write a resume and how to successfully ace their job interviews.
“The past two years in the program helped me a lot,” Cali said. She aced her first job interview and has been employed with Tractor Supply Company for the past 9 months and is working hard to become a Team Lead after graduation. As a high school senior, Cali has also taken on a leadership role within her HSHT campus group, walking around the room assisting underclassmen complete their job applications, resumes and even research careers. At last months meeting, she came running into the room proudly waving her senior pictures, shouting “Miss, Miss! I never thought I would ever see this day! I never thought I would graduate high school! ”
We are so very proud of our Cali Girl for all her hard work and dedication to school, her employer and to her community. Cali is also part of the Willis HS Marching Band, FFA and raises and shows heifers through 4H.
Getting their first job is one of the biggest steps young persons make in their journey to adulthood. Recently, four young persons with disabilities made this step with the assistance of the Transition and Employment program at Easter Seals Greater Houston. Jason, Christopher, George, and Helmer came to Easter Seals Greater Houston by different paths, but they were all looking for the same thing, help with that big step toward employment and independence.
Their paths to employment were different; George found a job two days after our Transition Program staff met him, the others took several weeks to several months to find the right fit in a job. Along the way they all found out what they are capable of doing and how hard they are willing to work to be successful. Their employers – Kroger, What-a-Burger, Dollar Tree and Food Town all report that they are very happy with their new employees. George even has customers asking for him when they shop at his store. Helmer’s employer is asking us if we have more people like him for them to hire.
All of us have had our first job. Some of those jobs we remember fondly, others not so fondly. But, we all learned valuable lessons that we carried with us to our next jobs. These four are learning those lessons now and will use that knowledge to continue to grow as they move forward in their careers.
Every journey begins with a first step. The Easter Seals Transition and Employment program can help make those steps lead to meaningful growth and a bright future.
David Wright is a recent graduate of Stephen F. Austin High School in Sugar Land where he was in our Easter Seals Houston High School High Tech / RAMP (Ready to Achieve Mentoring) program since his freshman year. David has been interested in becoming a herpetologist for a long time and knows A LOT about it. Freshman year it was hard for our staff to keep him on track because he always wanted to talk about lizards, snakes, and reptiles. We literally couldn’t get him to talk about anything else! Through the years David got better about this, was more open to participating in what the class was doing and it was obvious he was starting to pick up on the importance of our mentoring and lessons about social cues and soft skills and more. Jacquelyn Privatera Miller went with him to his interview for the internship at the Houston Museum of Natural Science at Sugar Land and he was SO professional, acted like a well prepared young adult and dressed himself so well for the interview. Everyone was really impressed. David is thriving in this environment and has opened up more and can have great conversations with people including his new co-workers. He even hugs Jacquie now when he sees her, which he would never ever have done before. So really he has just grown and matured so much in the last few years and is doing a really impressive job at his internship! Help us congratulate David as he is enjoying his 20 hours/week internship AND is also enrolled at Wharton Community College! Huge thanks to the museum and the museum staff for making it a life changing experience for David!
High School/High Tech is a community-based partnership of parents, educators, rehabilitation professionals and business representatives working together to encourage students with disabilities to explore the fields of science, engineering and technology. Only 56% of students with disabilities graduate from high school. High School/High Tech was developed to address this situation. Most individuals with disabilities have not had the encouragement, role models, access and stimulation to pursue challenging technical careers or courses of study. Through High School/High Tech, students with disabilities are presented a mix of learning experiences that promote career exploration and broaden educational horizons. High School/High Tech also offers a mentoring program called RAMP – Ready to Achieve Mentor Program. Learn more about High School/High Tech.
Chris is a young man in his 20’s who came to Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s BridgingApps program because of his interest in technology. He and his mother wanted to understand how he could use his mobile device to help him be more productive and organized as he began to search for a job. He owned a smart phone, but his phone was quite old and he didn’t use it for more than the basics, mostly entertainment. Part of the barrier to using his smart phone effectively was that he experienced anxiety about draining the battery, so he preferred to have it plugged into the wall, limiting his mobility.
Through a generous grant from the Hogg Foundation, BridgingApps provided Chris with a new smart phone and “one on one” trainings with Digital Learning Specialist, Tara Rocha. During one of these sessions, Tara introduced the concept of a using portable rechargeable battery pack to Chris. Because it is small and rechargeable, Chris learned to plug his smart phone into this device that eased his anxiety about draining his battery, allowing him to be more mobile immediately. He learned how to create calendar appointments, add items to task lists, back up his data, use contacts, and much more. Following each session, Chris has practiced the tasks at home with an at-home assignment.
When Tara demonstrated several app options for filling out forms using his smart phone, Chris became so excited that he could complete this task digitally! He found it difficult and laborious to fill out forms required for job searches and other kinds of forms as he moves into adulthood. Writing has been a challenge for him, but he is much more eager to use his phone for this task. We wish Chris the best of luck as he continues his job search, and we will continue to keep in touch as he makes progress towards his goals.
Our Easter Seals Greater Houston Transition team met Paul and his mother last June as a Hogg Foundation for Mental Health Transition Age Youth Project of Easter Seals Greater Houston/DARS client. Thanks to the Hogg Foundation, this project offers services and support for persons, ages 16 – 27, who have are on the spectrum and have a co-occurring mental illness and is designed to help youth become more independent and successful in their communities. The many facets of the program include social skills training, supported employment, summer internships, college classes at the Houston Community College VAST Academy, BCBA Services, peer supports, referral assistance, financial coaching, on-line driver’s Education and access to our mobile technology program.
Paul had just graduated from Sam Rayburn High School in Pasadena, Texas. His only work history was as a volunteer through a high school program with a couple of companies in the Pasadena area. Paul and his parents wanted him to find a part-time job with a number of specific permanents such as close to home, after 4:00 pm and Monday thru Friday. Together, Paul and his transition counselor, Robert Aranda, created a resume reflecting his volunteer experience and a reference list of his former supervisors. They met to complete on-line applications, practiced mock interviews and reviewed social skills for interviewing techniques. Paul interviewed with companies through Summer and Fall.
In December, Wal-Mart called Paul in for an interview. His Transition Counselor says he is a very likable and responsible individual and that he really wants to show his parents that he is able to expand his learning curve and become more independent. Paul’s interview at Wal-Mart was a hit with the Human Resources Department and he was hired this past December as a Cart Attendant. Wal-Mart was very accommodating with assisting Paul with the work schedule he needed. Within two months, Paul’s supervisors noted his work great ethic, enthusiasm and customer service. Paul was selected Employee of the Month for February!!
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.