Tag Archives: Social Motion

Autism Awareness Month & “The Road Traveled”

As we enter in April and Autism Awareness Month, I stop and reflect on where life has IMG_6632taken me.

Sometimes in life, you set out on a path and stumble into a dream you never knew you had.  Social Motion Skills started as a thought and a necessity in Wendy Dawson’s life for her family. Social Motion Skills became a part of my life in 2010 and I soon found myself helping to breathe life into a dream we wanted to make a reality.

I was an assistant principal in the public schools and sitting in ARDS daily hearing parents express the desire for their kids to have social skills training. The school schedules just did not allow enough time in the day to help our kids interact with their peers and practice the skills that many of us take for granted and are needed to be successful throughout our lives. I met Wendy and our worlds merged into a forever partnership.

5342570901105Fast forward 5 years and here we are having touched hundreds of families, offer programs starting at age 2 and go up to our mature adults and have been a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston since 2012.  Social Motion Skills is a passion of our heart. Our paychecks are often watching a client succeed in a job, gain a friend or get their driver’s license. Our kids are growing up. Our program is growing. More families are finding a need for services.

We started offering after school social skills classes where students interact with their peers in a group setting. From there, we knew that our kids could learn to drive, but not in a typical setting. We partnered with SafeWay Driving and created Drivers Ed at Your Speed. This is an 8-12 week online course guided by one of our Social Motion Skills teachers. They take their time and really do learn at their speed. We offer a Young Adult group that meets and does activities in the community.  We partnered with Urban Chef and have a Cooking Club. We work with clients on job training and coaching as well as life coaching and behavioral therapy. This spring, we were able to bring the PEERS Program to Houston and are working to help today’s teens and their parents navigate and become their childs’ social coach. The sky is really the limit as we have entered into this path and see many needs that need to be met.

Donating to Easter Seals Greater Houston allows us to continue offering this IMG_5090exceptional program. If things don’t change now, then when? If it’s not us working to make a change, then who? Every life matters and we believe everyone needs a friend. Our clients, families, supporters & volunteers all believe in our program – and our clients and their families are all “going down their own road”, &  finding the right path or even paths.  I have been truly blessed by this dream I never knew I had. My career has gone down an amazing road….nothing I ever expected and more than I could ever dream possible. We can make a difference one life at a time….

Join our Walk With Me Houston team and come see what it’s all about!

Lauren Whidden  Social Motion Skills, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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The Gift of Our Staff

Amazingly enough …or not because we love Easter Seals Greater Houston! …our average staff tenure is more than five years! With the exception of one senior staff member (and she’s close!), all greta pictureof our program directors have been here 11+ years, most over 18! That speaks volumes for our mission, staff, families, and clients.  Here are some thoughts by our two most tenured staff. Our Office/IT Manager and a dearly loved Physical Therapist.

We-heart-ESGHMy name is Greta Cherry and I am a Physical Therapist here at Easter Seals. I have been an employee for 42 happy and rewarding years. I started working here two weeks after graduation from the UTMB School of Physical Therapy. From the very first day when I was greeted by the receptionist Betty Hester with a beautiful smile up until now under the leadership of Elise Hough and Dena Day, I can truthfully  say I would not change any of my many experiences. I really love my job, having had the opportunities to grow and learn working with hundreds of children, families and professionals. What an awesome ride it has been for me. Because of the enthusiasm, support and love I have received over the years, it has been a wonderful place for me to work. I thought about retiring for several years, I even tried retirement for about one month, but really missed the people I work with and the interaction with children and families, so with the blessing of my bosses I came back to Easter Seals.IMG_2132

My name is Donald and in February 2015 I will be celebrating 40 years of employment with Easter Seals.  As I sit here contemplating  the many years, I cannot tell you what a wonderful journey it has been,  When I first  started with the then Cerebral Palsy Treatment Center, I cut the grass and was an aid in the Therapeutic Recreational Department.  Within six months I was the only employee in the Recreational program – what a learning experience!  The next thing I know I was trained to administer hearing tests on clients, as we had our own audiometer booth   Then I moved from there to office worker, HR Assistant Director, Adult Program Director and now Office and IT Manager. What an amazing life I have had over my 40 years, the fellow employees I have had the honor to call my friends, and all the wonderful clients I have worked with.  Easter Seals is a wonderful gift in my life.

Did you know that we were originally  founded in Houston in 1947 as a part of HISD – the school for children with cerebral palsy, before the laws were changed for public schools?  The original offices were where the new Legacy Community Healthcare building stands in Montrose.  Once the laws were changed the agency evolved into a therapeutic treatment center, has grown yearly and the last 10 years, by more than 10% each year.  Easter Seals Greater Houston now serves individuals with ALL types of disabilities, as well as their families. Through a staff of over 120+ professionals, we serve more than 8,000 families annually through direct services in Houston and surrounding counties and reach over 23,000 monthly through our program websites.

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Because Practice Does Make Possible!

In honor of Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Awareness Day being celebrated today – “Light It Up Blue“!, Easter Seals Greater Houston is highlighting one of our programs, Social Motion Skills, which has a unique approach to creating independence for children and teens on the Autism spectrum.  One of the services offered through Social Motion Skills is “Drivers Ed At Your Speed”.5342570901105

A driver’s license–a rite of passage for independence, right? Not so fast for high functioning teens with autism who may be brilliant but socially quirky! Driving is full of social cues that may be difficult to pick up on for these students if they are not provided driver’s ed designed the way they learn.  That’s why we created Driver’s Ed at Your Speed!  With autism rates at 1 in 68 children, the need for services is real. While early intervention is gaining attention there is an acute lack of training for young adults. Transition plans from school to work are great, but how are you going to get to work, store, bank, & friend’s house? The answer–Social Motion Skills & Safeway Driving Centers are offering driver’s ed designed for people with learning differences. Targeted education techniques combined with online technology & simulator time provide skill assessments & evaluations. Students & parents have the information they need to make safe decisions before getting behind the wheel.

Driver’s Ed at Your Speed focuses on turning capable drivers with learning differences into safe drivers!  Online technology maximizes the individual learning experience while progress data helps parents make the best decision for their child, especially in something as important as driving.  Presented in a clear, concise manner to accommodate retention, attention spans & learning differences, the program provides extra content to address anxiety, advocacy, emergency situations & car care.internship 1

This program addresses deficits and instills confidence in students who with specialized instruction can achieve life changing independence. Without such specialized support the road dead ends…

John is a teen with autism & significant mechanical/engineering skills.  He works at an auto repair shop & needs a license for insurance purposes to move cars around the shop.  The program enables him to retain employment & live independently.  The scenario is repeated over and over by teens.  According to a survey by Rutgers Center for Advanced Infrastructure, 24% of high functioning adults with autism said they were drivers, vs. 75% of general population.  Enable the capable driver. Enable the job. Enable a life! Put a deserving student in the driver’s seat and on the road to productive independence!

Social Motion Skills breaks down social barriers for teens with autism, ADHD & learning differences. Practice makes possible. Social Motion Skills provides social skill training and enrichment activities for students ages 5-35 with learning differences, ADD/ ADHD and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) including Asperger’s syndrome and PDD-NOS. Social Motion Skills offers a comprehensive learn as you grow approach to social skills through active learning for those who find interacting with the world around them indiscernible, frustrating, mysterious and even a bit scary!

With less than 3% of charitable giving supporting people with disabilities, you can see the value of supporting Social Motion Skills and Easter Seals Greater Houston‘s multiple life changing programs & share in the success of children, teens and adults with disabilities!

Wendy Dawson, Founder – Social Motion Skills, ESGH Board Member

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Our Newest Avril “Rock Stars”!

This past weekend, Easter Seals Grater Houston held its third installment of our teen camp, CamDSCF4708p MOST (Miles of Smiles for Teens) with the help of Randalls Food Market, The Avril Lavigne Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston. It has been such an incredible experience to be a part of the birth of this new opportunity for teenagers. Some of the campers who have attended one of the weekend retreats had been removed from the camp scene for a few years since their graduation from Camp Smiles (our week-long overnight camp) at age 14, so they have loved getting back to camp, seeing old friends and enjoying some teen time.

Camp MOST along with our program, Social Motion Skills, is all about encouraging the teens along in their transition from childhood to adulthood and supporting them through this challenging time of life. High school is tough enough for any teenager, and when you bring a disability into the mix, it adds a whole other dimension to the puzzle. At Camp MOST, the teens find a support group among each other and are able to talk about what it’s like to be a teenager with a disability, how they navigate their high school, and share advice about how to teach and interact with their peers about disabilities in a positive way. In the future, DSCF4551we hope to add an element to camp that touches on transition from high school to post secondary life like our High School High Tech Program – meaning college, employment, vocational school, etc. We want to encourage the teens to become self advocates and learn how to get the most out of their life! We hope to accomplish this by stressing the development of relationships, natural supports, personal expectations, community involvement, social skills and self-determination – all key components of Social Motion Skills.

It’s amazing to watch these campers who once were young nervous little kids, arrive at camp and check themselves in, turn in all of their medication and explain what each of them is for, and explain their own personal care needs to the volunteers. They are really learning to be self advocates and understand how to take responsibility for themselves. I also love watching the campers develop true friendships among one another. They all exchange contact information with each other at camp and many stay in touch and become great friends! They really are each other’s best support because no one knows what it’s like to be in their shoes except for them.  I love that Camp MDSCF4664OST helps the campers find and connect with people who understand them and can relate to their life experiences. Not to mention, it’s a great place for these teens to escape for a weekend and just let loose and have fun!

I hope that Camp MOST continues to grow and encourage teens through their high school years. It is definitely my dream to see some of these campers come back in the future as mentors to the new campers! Between the community support, MOST, Social Motion Skills and High School High Tech, we hope the community sees the importance of giving teens with disabilities a chance – they can excel at school, go on to college and be gainfully employed. We can’t do it without support both monetarily and volunteer based. Please consider making a gift, serving as a volunteer or asking your company to be a host site for our high school program.

Here’s a little taste of the success we see – C has been attending our children’s camp since he was 7 years old.  Every year at our children’s camp, he refused to do the high ropes course.  Now 14, C saw being at teen camp as a rite of passage and as an opportunity to challenge himself and step outside of his comfort zone.  So, C got up to the top of the high ropes course (nearly 3 stories high!), and then flew back down via the zip line.  C screamed and beamed all the way down, and at the end of it exclaimed, “Check it out, I did it!”

By Betsy Keane, Camp Coordinator, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Are You Blue?

“Light It Up Blue”  – Autism Awareness Month

Awareness by nature of the word invokes the idea of heightened sensitivity, noticing something new in surroundings, maintaining a sense of curiosity and increased perception .  Awareness is an opportunity to become educated in new areas of life.5342570901105

In this month, which is dedicated to Autism Awareness, I hope that those unaware of autism spectrum disorders and unfamiliar with  how individuals with neurological differences present to others, take the time to open their eyes and hearts and achieve a heightened sense of awareness.

This heightened awareness is most crucial in accepting our friends with  invisible disabilities, those often categorized as high functioning. To the unaware, they appear “normal”  but the social nuance offenses often occur and inevitably cause confusion or intolerance.IMG_6632

If we increase awareness however, upon reflection, the perceptive observer will notice the person behind the shy gaze, the maladaptive tone of voice, the learned responses or the over zealous response to a simple question.

All is takes is a mere fleeting second to consider with new awareness why the nuances of a social situation were “off”. What were the  expectations in a social situation that were not met as anticipated and why? Was the encounter interpreted correctly or was there a cloaked exchange requiring a moment of sensitive awareness?

We all know someone deserving of our heightened awareness.

With conscious attention we can recognize talents and unique personality traits instead of perpetuating stereotypes and intolerance.

Be aware that communication comes in all styles.

An individual’s disability may be invisible, but their feelings are very real.

Lead. Set the example. Spread awareness.IMG_5090

A new friendship full of amazing potential  awaits in return.

Social Motion Skills – a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston was founded almost solely based on this reasoning.  Teaching children and adolescents with social integration difficulties (autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, language and learning differences) to break through everyday social barriers in order to lead happy, integrated lives.


Wendy Dawson
Founder, Social Motion Skills and ESGH Board Member
A program of Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Full Circle

70 years ago – we started in Montrose in an old house at 1415 California (the new and improved home of Legacy) as the school for children with cerebral palsy before the laws changed to allow children with disabilities into the independent school system.  That law changed in 1975, and as a result we became a therapeutic treatment center.  One of my favorite people in the world – Katherine “Ronnie” Kenner, went to the school in the 1950’s and still remains close with us today. Her stories and antics then and now delight me and suffice it to say she was our very first “Ambassador” thanks to the kindness of well-known Houston Chronicle writer Andy Anderson, many of the entertainers (pictured Ronnie and Eddie Arnold and Dinah Shore) from the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo and the much missed Shamrock Hotel.

When I started 17 years ago, we saw our clients in the Infant Program/ Early Intervention in our offices. Parents and caregivers sat in our lobby and waited for their children and as a result got to know the other parents, traded information, gave each other pep talks and created a network.  We – the staff – got to know the families as a whole, remember when children took their 1st step, said their 1st word or graduated – cap and gown included – at 36 months!  Back then we also had Respite Services, Buckaroo day camp and our Adult Program.

Laws changed and our therapists had to start seeing clients in their own “natural setting” – that meant driving to their home, school, or even a local church to see clients. It has its benefits – moms and dads can learn how to help their child with therapy in their natural setting – translated that means they should be able to replicate what the therapist is teaching them and continue on a daily basis – for a much better outcome. I see the benefits – but it also makes me sad…first and foremost we didn’t see kids in the office, get to know the families, our staff in the office shrank from at that time 30 to about 3….(gets kind of lonely in an echoing 1950’s cinder block school building) and our trampolines and larger equipment now went un-used.  So downsizing was a must. Now we are lucky enough to be in a building centrally located in Bellaire with five outreach offices.

So the last 10 years have been incredibly busy, major shares of ups and downs, Enron, Katrina, Ike, and Rita along the way….more than a learning curve… and despite the downs, ESGH has managed to grow every year…the number of clients we serve is always on the rise, their needs are always more desperate, the gaps always seemingly huge…but at the same time – an incredibly dedicated staff, incredible supporters and volunteers, and great new programs along the way to help fill those gaps, help many out of desperation and actually see change in our community.   Camp is bigger and stronger with more kids served, more weeks offered; Play Therapy and our Toy Tech Program went from serving 10 to 800!  Home Of Your Own has been there to see over 170 closings on homes – families in the community, saving money, contributing back and not one of them has been in default; High School High Tech is in four different school districts, served close to 400 teenagers last year and versus the national drop-out rate of close to 50% for teens with disabilities, our is an incredible 1%! 2011 we served 5,500 families 0r over 20,000 individuals.

3 years ago, we opened the Children’s Therapy Program (up to 15 yrs) with physical, occupational and speech therapy in our clinic – so children and their families started coming back to the office, we know all their names again, celebrate in their achievements and consider them part of our family.  About the same time we re-established the Caroline School with the amazing help of Board VP, Elizabeth DeLuca,…more kiddos and school again! Since then we have brought in Social Motion Skills and BridgingApps – both cutting edge programs that we are proud to include in the spectrum of services we offer.  With the census showing 1 in 5 with a disability combined with the aging of the baby boomers…we must continue to be able to serve more and through more innovative cost saving programs.

So as I sit in my office today, as we prepare to move into larger space for both the Caroline School and Children’s Therapy, I am amazed. Amazed at where we were and where we are, amazed that I can tell you the names of pretty much any child that comes in, amazed that their moms and dads come to me and tell me – “I work at Randalls Food Market now, I am so proud to be working for a national sponsor” or “we just raised $3,000 cash for our Walk With Me team…and we think we can do more!” We have now been officially Easter Seals Greater Houston for a 1 ½ years and one of our favorite pictures which is the cover of our brochure is a vintage black and white picture of the house at 1415 California, nurse with seamed stockings on and a “We sell Easter Seals here sign at the door”.   So while the seamed stockings are out of the picture (thank goodness)…..1415 California is alive and well at 4500 Bissonnet – with children running and playing up and down hallways again, Caroline School students will be starting school in a month in their new and improved space, stronger families are being made, stronger children are growing up and Easter Seals is in the forefront.

Kelly Klein, Development Director, ESGH

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Powerful Gifts

I want to share this story because I hope it inspires us all to think beyond our own needs.  For me,  it is harder to care about something, to give to something when I don’t have skin in the game.  However, Mac DeLaup and the John Eagle Honda team seem to be willing and able to do what is not always easy.  They give generously with an eye to the impact of their giving on our clients – not on their business.  In the short year since we met the John Eagle Honda team, they sponsored Care2Spin, Pajama Day, and a Holiday Drive.

We met Mac through a friend of a friend.  Allie Herzog and her indomitable PR team at IntegratePR were working pro bono on Care2Spin and brought Mac into the mix.   Through the creative and strong marketing efforts of IntegratePR and John Eagle Honda, we had amazing coverage-helping raise funds and awareness for Easter Seals Houston.  (In fact, Integrate PR won the prestigious American Marketing Association Crystal Award for Care2Spin (Best PR Campaign and Corporate Citizenship) and for PJ Day (Maverick Marketing award).

Our newest program, Social Motion Skills, www.socialmotionskills.org, provides real life social skills training for children and adolescents with autism, ADHD and other similar neurological disorders.  Social Motion Skills, in collaboration with our High School/High Tech Program, is working to provide summer internships for high school aged students with disabilities.  Many of these students have heard about all that they can not do – but we work hard to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities.  By finding sites willing to hire a student who may need some accommodation, by providing jobs mentoring, interviewing experience, jobs shadowing and community partners willing to fund the internships – many of the students successfully complete their first ever paid job.

So…back to my friend of a friend, Mac.  Within a few minutes of my sending Mac an email asking if he would consider placing a summer intern at John Eagle Honda – he replied “absolutely.”  I told Mac that we would use grant funds to pay for the student’s internship if he could provide the job site and a mentor.  A few days later, Mac interviewed the young man and offered him the internship.  Mac also said that he would fund the internship so that we could use the grant money to help yet another student.

Easter Seals is so fortunate to have broad community support.  The example of our internships reflects this – it a collaborative effort between parents, Easter Seals, funders and employers.  If you are interested in learning more about funding or providing a job site for one of our interns, please contact ejohnson@eastersealshouston.org.    I am truly grateful for the publicity, for the donations from the DeLaup family and John Eagle Honda, but possibly my favorite gift from Mac was given at the end of the student’s interview. Before the meeting concluded, Mac gave the young man a John Eagle Honda t-shirt and welcomed him to the team.    Because Mac gives with his heart, he knew how much it would mean to a young man to be accepted-just the way he is – as part of a team.    Some gifts are priceless.

Elise Hough,CEO

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Making the “Most” of It

Talk about marking off something off our “bucket list”! We have always wanted to hold an over night camp for our teens that have aged out of Camp Smiles.  SO, The first weekend in March, Easter Seals hosted its inaugural camp for teenagers!  Camp MOST (Miles of Smiles for Teens) hosted Camp Smiles graduates between the ages of 14 and 18.  The focus of Camp MOST was socialization and being comfortable and confident just being the way you are.  Camp MOST included short workshops for teens to gain vital social skills and learn important social lessons by Social Motion Skills (one of our newest programs), as well as the usual fun camp activities such as the zipline, riding, canoeing, fishing and more! 

Campers and buddies had a blast and on reflection had  great things to say!  From the campers…“I learned that I’m not the only one who is different and that there are people like me who also want friends.”….-“There is magic in the air at camp.”…-About the Easter Seals staff “I love all that they do. They work so hard…I hope camp is always here.”… learned how to mature.”…. camp, everyone is the same no matter what they have…I learned that I can be independent.”…-“I learned that I can be a better person.” …-“...I learned that I can do anything that I want to do.”

From their buddies -“I think we really helped both the parents and the teenagers this weekend.”…-“This was such a needed addition to Easter Seals. The teens really benefitted from seeing each other again, talking about their feelings, and regaining confidence in themselves after conquering camp activities.”

*Special Thanks to Social Motion Skills and our board including Dr. Aloysia Schwabe and Dr. Rachelle Dy, and The Keane Family for making this happen!

Christine Ellery and Betsy Keane, Camp Counseling Case Management Staff

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