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The Power of Communication

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For some children and adults having a voice to communicate comes from an augmentative and alternative communication option. A way to communicate.

Anna was referred to Easter SealsChildren’s Therapy Program to get specialized services to learn to use a high-tech communication device so that she can communicate her own thoughts to her family and friends. She uses a wheelchair for mobility and has a lot of difficulty controlling her motor movements including her breath support and muscles for speech. The therapists have been trying different communication devices that let her “touch” the screen with her eyes. In addition to her speech therapist, Anna works with physical and occupational therapists to strengthen her core, stretch her arms and legs, and relaxation techniques. All of this helps control her posture and head control so that she can successfully activate her communication device.

Anna has a great sense of humor and is really motivated to get her mom or therapists to laugh. She has been practicing telling jokes and silly stories. It has been great getting to know the “real” Anna now that she is able to show us how much she has to say. Her mom has been very excited to get to know Anna’s favorite things and hearing her opinions.

Due to the success she has had in her weekly sessions, Anna’s school is working with her family to provide additional supports for Anna to use her device at school and in the community. She is also starting a standing program to help her regain strength and function, help with transfers, and improve breathing and other quality of life measures.

Daryn Ofczarzak, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Children’s Therapy, BridgingApps

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Celebrating Warrior Princess Ava

Ava spent the first 63 days of her life in the NICU, as a little heart warrior, fighting for her life. Today, Ava is an adorable little princess, delighting everyone with her sweet smile. This story is a celebration of her victory over those first battles, and the battles she continues to face.

At five months pregnant, Ava’s mom, Mikki, learned Ava had a congenital heart defect (CHD).  Two weeks later, Mikki found that the heart condition was much more severe than initially thought.  When taking a class about her daughter’s upcoming stay in the NICU, Mikki’s water broke.  She spent the next 32 days in the hospital, on bedrest, until Ava was born at 33 weeks.  The cause of her heart defect was determined at about one week old. Ava was diagnosed with 22.q.11 chromosome deletion (DiGeorge Syndrome), “the most common, uncommon syndrome”.  Ava struggled with feeding and sleeping issues, as she fought to gain enough weight to have her first heart surgery at one month old.  Ava continued to deal with feeding and sleeping concerns, trying to gain weight, for another month after her surgery.  At 2 months old, Ava was discharged to go home.  Staff from the hospital gave her mom a pamphlet about ECI (Early Childhood Intervention), which Mikki dismissed at first.

Ava’s first few months at home were a difficult physical and mental adjustment for her whole family.  An autoimmune condition was revealed, which meant Ava was not strong enough to receive immunizations, and needed to be separated from her 3-year-old sister. Her pediatrician also followed up on the hospital’s suggestion, and recommended ECI. At six months old, Easter Seals Greater Houston started providing ECI services.  Ava received PT (Physical Therapy), OT (Occupational Therapy), SST (Specialized Skills Training), and Case Management. Nutrition was added for two months due to Ava needing to gain weight for a second surgery, which Ava was able to have at 8 months old.  Even though the surgery was considered “a full repair”, she will need more surgeries when she’s older, as her heart grows, for maintenance and additional repairs.  According to her mom, after the second surgery, “we came home with a new baby”. Ava had more energy, and overcame her eating and sleeping struggles. With her new-found energy and ECI’s therapy sessions, “everything fell into place”.

Ava started to crawl at one year old and mom states, “she was the fastest crawling baby I ever saw in my life”. She walked at 25 months old and developed her hand (fine motor) skills. Aided by SMOs (Supra-malleolar orthosis), which give her stability needed as a late walker, Ava now runs!  Ava communicates by pointing, showing what she wants, and using about 30 signs. “Ava has no problem getting her needs known. She’s following her own road, doing milestones in the right progression.” In the fall, Ava will attend the PPCD class with Montgomery ISD, and continue to receive PT and OT services, as well as adding Speech Therapy services from Easter Seals ECI Program.

When asked about how Easter Seals Early Childhood Intervention helped, Mikki reported: “I didn’t know what to do before ECI.  They guided me through her condition and what needed to be done first.  Every therapy was building on what needed to happen next.  ECI also encouraged her big sister to participate.  The therapists gave ideas on how to incorporate the two girls to do daily activities together, and how to make one-on-one time with her big sister.  I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Her mom added: “Thinking that Ava would need therapy was hard for me to accept, but God gave me this child, and it was my job to give her what she needed to be successful.  Ava’s an amazing, sweet little girl, who has taught me so much.  They call heart babies ‘heart warriors’ because they fight battles they don’t even know they have to fight.”  Ava truly is, the perfect combination of warrior and princess.

It has now been four months of #StayAtHome.  That is around the same amount of time your baby/toddler reaches new milestones. Are you keeping a checklist? Are you watching for the next great milestone reached?  Your baby, who might have been five months at the start of #StayAtHome, now at nine months should be standing while holding on, can get into sitting position, sits without support, pulls to stand and crawls.  

Learn more about our Make The First Five Count Campaign and how to ensure your child is meeting their milestones.

Easter Seals Greater Houston’s ECI Program is still providing all services via tele-therapy including evaluations. Call Alicia at 713.838.9050 ext. 385 to schedule a free evaluation and to check on your child’s milestones.

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MOST of All!

Teamwork makes the dream work!  Teens with cerebral palsy and volunteers (many of them long-time volunteers – thanks, friends!) had a great time last month at Easter Seals Camp MOST Weekend Camp – riding horses, doing archery, and challenging themselves at the tower – and learning about self-awareness, advocacy, and teamwork during the jam sessions. Camp Most pic 1 This past weekend the crew worked together to line up PVC pipe and get a marble from one end to the other.  Kudos to teen, Sebastian, for stepping up and leading the teens and getting everyone started on a plan.  The teens got the ball rolling and had a resounding success!

Kenzie Richard, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Program Coordinator

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There Will Never Be Enough ” Thank You’s”

Our baby, Nicolas was born with Arthrogryposis, this condition causes many joints to be stiff and crooked at birth. This was a surprise since the doctor didn’t catch this in the ultrasounds.  It was a pill hard to swallow as every parent expects their baby to be healthy. Nicolas was a tight little ball who could not stretch out. The Arthrogryposis on Nicolas affected him in his elbows, wrists, 10 fingers, knees, and complex clubfeet. The doctors weren’t sure if he was going to be able to walk. He was in need of a lot of medical care including surgeries, cast, and therapy.

We heard about Easter Seals Greater Houston and their program called Early Childhood Intervention that could help us give therapy to Nicolas from home. We called and after a few weeks, they were at home making the first evaluation. After this evaluation, they told us Nicolas qualified and they would start coming to our home for PT, OT, and ST.

Every single lady from this program has changed our lives in so many ways. They have shown this love for Nico since the day they met him. They were at my house every week since my son was 2 months old until 3 years old.

1The OT therapy started with DeeDee, she is a very sweet lady who won’t stop smiling. Nico was so happy to see her. She helped Nico with his hands, shoulders, elbows, and wrists doing stretching. She taught Nico to use his fingers to grab toys, small balls, push bottoms, and play with his cars. She also did stretching on a big ball. She became a friend of our family. She brought us hope.

The PT started with Melanie. She helped Nico with stretching his lower body. She helped us when we were having problems with Nico’s braces. She helped Nico sit and start bearing weight, she even put Nico in his first gait trainer.

After that, we had to move to Houston. The ECI program rescheduled and reassigned within Easter Seals and did everything for us and after a couple of weeks, they started coming to our new apartment.

The PT continued with Cristy. My family will never forget this lady. When Nico was born the doctors weren’t sure if he was going to walk. She helped Nico in so many ways. She made him stronger. She was always very energetic and happy. She helped Nico walk his first steps on his walker. And then the unimaginable happened. She said Nico was ready to walk by himself. So Nico took his first steps with her at 20 months old. I have that memory in my mind like it was yesterday. Everybody was so happy and in tears. It was the best moment in our lives. We are so thankful for her. After that she taught Nico to go up and down small steps. She taught Nico to kick a ball. She taught Nico to go from a sitting position to standing. She will be always a special person in our lives.

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The OT continued with Sherry. She helped Nico with fine motor skills. Nico got better grabbing things. Sherry also taught Nico colors, numbers, and animal names. She was always bringing new toys to keep Nico learning new things every therapy session.

For ST, both speech pathologists were great teaching Nico how to blow bubbles and saying new words like pop, mom and daddy.  They read books to Nico and played with him to teach him even more new words.

We moved again into a new house and with the move, we again got new therapists within Easter Seals.

Lisa started with Nico for OT. She always said Nico was super smart. She encouraged Nico’s Spanish. She was very funny and always made us laugh. She taught Nico to draw lines, circles, play with play-doh and so much more. She was always a spark of joy for us.

3Britney started with Speech. She taught Nico so many new words. Nico’s first sentence was thanks to Britney. She was always finding funny ways to made Nico speak. She helped me a lot too. She was the one who made the transition of Nico to the School District.

Nico also started speech group therapy. He loved this therapy. He was so happy to go and see the other kids. This therapy was really fun. Nico learned how to interact with other kids, and how to follow instructions. He learned a lot of new words and how to answer questions. He learned to interact with his teachers.

I can’t say thank you enough to Easter Seals and this ECI program and all people working in it. They changed our lives in so many ways. They went beyond just being therapists. They made us feel like family. They were there in one of the sad moments of our lives and they brought us hope.  Nicolas is doing so well thanks to all these ladies. We love you and will never forget you. Thank you very much!

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By: Nicolas’s Mom

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Military Financial Wellness With Freddie Mac

Set any New Year’s Resolutions to help build and maintain better credit? We can help!  Take advantage of our webinar series with Easterseals and Freddie Mac – build and maintain better credit, and prepare for successful long-term home ownership! paull roberts 2

Did you know that Veterans are more likely to have credit card challenges? We meet countless Veterans and military families facing difficult situations, which is why we’ve created more resources and options for military members looking to achieve financial wellness. Check out our video series below!

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Celebrating National Disability Employment Awareness Month

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Abner Medrano was referred to Commissioner Adrian Garcia’s 2019 Summer Internship Program in June. Abner interviewed with Ms. Yhari Jones, the Coordinator for the internship program, and other staff from Commissioner Garcia’s office. Abner and nine other interns were chosen for the program. They visited a Commissioner’s Court session and met all of the County Commissioners and the County Judge.

He completed the onboarding process and began working in the Human Resources Department on Wallisville Road on June 25th. Abner has a Certificate in Office Administration from Houston Community College and was placed in a job processing mileage checks, filing copies of documents in staff personnel files, updating personnel spread sheets, and checking and verifying online materials that were then added to staff files. Abner’s work schedule was 8:30am to 4:00pm, Monday to Friday.IMG_1435

With the end of the internship in mid-August, Abner now has an addition to his resume and several nice letters of reference from his supervisor and co-workers. Thank you to Commissioner Garcia and his staff for making this opportunity available to Abner and the other interns. This great annual program offers young persons the chance to experience real paid work and to add something to their resume that will make a difference in their future job search.

Again, thank you to Commissioner Garcia and Precinct 2 staff. Abner came to Easter Seals via Texas Workforce Solutions (DARS) in 2018.

Abner and our Transition Program staff have complete a number of online applications, which have resulted in six face to face interviews.  While none of the interviews have resulted in permanent employment, Abner has worked with the Houston Livestock and Rodeo Security Division for the past two years.  This new opportunity to work and gain further hands on experience with the Summer Internship for Harris County Precinct 2 was a great opportunity to demonstrate Abner’s office skills.  This will be added to his resume for further enhancement.

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Easter Seals Greater Houston provides transition services for youth ages 16-27 with autism and mental health conditions. Services include transition evaluation and planning, social skills training, family and community resources and goals which reflect the youth’s realizable aspirations in areas of education or work, peer supports, job placement, job coaching and supported employment. Learn more.

Robert Williams, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Transition Director 

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School is in Session

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It’s been a great three weeks back in session at The Caroline School at Easter Seals for new and current students alike as well as teachers!

We have enjoyed getting back to our schedule and seeing old friends, like Mr. Bernie, the pet therapy dog, as well as meeting new friends and teachers. In Classroom One we welcomed Mrs. Tiana, Violet, and Paxton and in Classroom Two we added Clarke!

Our teachers were excited to use the new OATECA assessment and curriculum thanks to Anthony and Elizabeth DeLuca. This new curriculum measures goals and objectives that are created from the curriculum to foster each student’s learning experience.  tcs6

What better way to get to know each other than to ask questions and share experiences? Classroom Two did this by creating a collective Summer Adventures book. Students used communication devices, voices, and assistive technology to share pictures, text, and even color preferences.

All students at The Caroline School have access to utilize high tech assistive technology devices such as iPads and Apple TV’s to low tech devices like the Big Mac through Easter Seals BridgingApps, award winning smart technology lab and program. Teachers and staff implement assistive technology for communication, academic goals, and if necessary as a positive reinforcement on a daily basis and as appropriate for each child.

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We would love to add new friends to our book! To learn more visit CarolineSchool.org

Tabitha Hernandez, Caroline School Director, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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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

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They Grow Up So Fast

“He is talking more and more every single day!  He’s gotten a lot of boo boos and I always kiss him where he got hurt and say “all better Jakey”.  He now kisses me and says, “all better mommy”.  He’s definitely growing up!  Andrea had a cap and gown for his ESGH  ECI graduation.  I just wanted to thank you again for all your help!!  Jacob and I truly appreciate it tremendously!!” Screenshot_20190618-124740_Messages

-Jacobs Mom

Easter Seals ECI Infant Development program is parent-driven and focuses on enhancing the development of children ages birth to 36 months with developmental delays or disabilities. It is our goal to give families the tools they need to make a significant impact on the development of their children.

We provide families with certified or licensed professionals who come into the child’s natural environment, as a part of the routine where the child learns, plays and lives, and use their skills to help in the progression of reaching the child’s developmental milestones. At the same time the therapists are modeling and teaching the parent/caregiver the skills needed to work by themselves with the child. We believe that parents/caregivers are the most important influences in a child’s life and should be an active player in their child’s development.

Every child who qualifies for the program will be assigned a service coordinator who will coordinate all the individualized services for the child in addition to being the main point of contact for the family. Other services provided may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, developmental services, nutrition services, respite services, and assistive technology assistance. If there is a concern about vision or hearing, we will make referrals to the appropriate location to see that your child’s needs are being met.

Sharon Mott, Easter Seals Greater Houston,  Transition and Outreach Coordinator, ECI Infant Program

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The Debt We Owe Our Heros

Veterans are not a monolith. They possess a variety of talents and skills and needs after the epic storm that crashed and stalled over Houston in Aug of 2017.  Hurricane Harvey was a call to action and many Veterans responded valiantly putting themselves in harm’s way once again to assist their own families, their neighbors, and the community-at-large. 

They borrowed John-boats and utilized high clearance vehicles, expertly jimmying equipment for high water rescue. They guided the confused and grief-stricken with clear and simple instructions to pack a survival bag and abandon things that could not be transported to higher ground. They stood up distribution warehouses and procured supplies from a generous nation and efficiency and effectively pushed water bottles, diapers, and sanitation supplies to where they were needed most in this flooded city.

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 They rendered physical and psychological first aid with compassionate and comforting expertise. They applied training, insisted on teamwork, established chains of command and networked with over-saturated emergency response systems. They warned us of the various toxic exposures in water-born illnesses, insect carried diseases and predicted the rapid growth of mold between brick and sheetrock. When they faced obstacles, they engaged in creative problem solving to invent new ways to overcome.

Technology-assisted them including Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps program. Facebook and Instagram, walked talkie apps, even Pinterest crowdsourced ideas and speed help around a city that knew we had to help ourselves, just as we knew we depended upon each other for our literal survival. Websites were born that matched people who needed help mucking and gutting with volunteers ready to get to work clearing a path to recovery. As mountains of debris piled on curbsides, rotting in the blazing sun, the next phase of the disaster began. Once the urgency subsided, and the adrenaline supply was exhausted, aspects of community-wide post-traumatic stress became evident. 

And our Veterans suffered from familiar foes of fatigue and survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance and insomnia, nightmares and relationship turmoil, numbness and self-neglect. They were triggered by the ever-present helicopter traffic that reminded them of the sounds of war. They were triggered by cramped sleeping quarters in large rooms filled with cots and chaos.  As the immediate aftermath of the disaster waxed, Veterans of the Storm named Harvey eventually went home to their own personal disasters, that were very real whether or not their own houses were damaged by the slowly receding muddy waters that had engulfed the city. 

We owe a debt of thanks to the heroes that walk among us in civilian dress. Veterans hide in plain sight but still carry the weight of duty and profound responsibility to serve and protect this nation.  We owe them more than simple gratitude.  

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ESGH was and is proud to be at the forefront with them through Harvey and our Harvey Recovery work thanks to our community, Save The Children, The Mayor’s Fund, Americares, Freddie Mac, Simmons Foundation and so many more. (https://www.eastersealshouston.org/Programs/harvey-heroes.html) AND we are proud to be able to continue offering our veterans programs and services to our current and retired military – through our #TexasVeteransandFamilyAlliance, our #mentalhealth program and so much more as well as continuing in our efforts for Harvey Housing recovery.

Amy Harkins, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Program and Harvey Recovery, Psychologist

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