100% Included, 100% Empowered – Bryce’s Story

Bryce appreciates the adventure in every day.

Bryce’s high school graduation announcement picture.

He loves planning and going on vacations, and his parents share that he loves to keep busy through helping around the house and in the community, and by fostering his creativity through art projects, as well as singing, dancing, and acting.

In January of this year, Bryce performed in Legally Blonde – his 7th production with the Penguin Project, a theatre group which produces musicals every year starring individuals with disabilities and their peer mentors. Of the seven productions he has been a part of, he has had speaking roles in the last five, requiring him to memorize lines. Most recently, Bryce played Kyle the UPS Driver, and stole the show when leading the company in an Irish dance.  

Bryce performing as Kyle in the Penguin Project’s production of Legally Blonde the Musical.

Bryce was the first child through the Easterseals Early Autism Diagnostic Clinic in January of 2003. His mom, Libby, shares that “Bryce has grown tremendously from our early days with Easterseals, and we continue to observe and celebrate that growth daily. Some memorable highlights include riding his bicycle without training wheels, using his language to convince us to get a puppy, graduating with his high school class, and planning vacations. Through the Penguin Project he has demonstrated growth in his acting ability, delivering multiple lines in speaking roles on stage in front of more than 1000 people.”

Bryce performing in the Penguin Project’s 2018 production of Mary Poppins.

Bryce’s parents want him to always have a purpose driven life, in a place where he is happy and celebrated — not just tolerated. To their family, inclusion is a feeling of acceptance not a place.  The barriers to achieve inclusion need to be removed for individuals to achieve their greatest potential. 

His mom shares that “it has always been important for us to work hard so that Bryce is a member of his community.  That includes being in classes with his Gen Ed peers as a part of his school community, going to restaurants and stores in our local community, and travelling the world as a part of his global community.  Bryce loves to fly on airplanes, ride on subways, trains, and buses.  He has explored much of the US, Canada, Mexico and Europe.  He loves hiking and driving through mountains and National Parks.  He has explored Denali in Alaska, the French Alps, the Smokey Mountains, and the Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to the Canadian Rockies.  Inclusion means that Bryce is accepted wherever he is in the world.”

Bryce and his family (Brother, Koen; Mom, Libby; Dad, Frank) enjoying the beautiful mountain scenery during a family vacation to Yosemite National Park.

For their family, being empowered means having the knowledge to confidently advocate for Bryce and other families with special needs children.  Together with friends and partners, they have hosted an annual gathering of nearly 100 organizations from around Central Illinois for the past 13 years to showcase their services across the special needs community.  They have also worked with their school district to adopt programs to foster empowerment and inclusion.

Go Grease Lightning! Bryce and members of the company of Grease performing one of the musical’s biggest numbers.

 “I always say no one gets where they’re going on their own, and we certainly didn’t. It takes a village to raise a child, and Easterseals has been a huge part of our village.”

We are so excited to see where Bryce’s bright future takes him.

Bryce and his family attending the Easterseals Century Ball in November of 2019.

Learn more about Bryce’s journey with the Penguin Project by watching his mom’s heartfelt testimonial below!

Get in the ZONE: Helping Children Manage Big Feelings

By Alyssa Huschen, MOT, OTR/L, Easterseals Central Illinois

Tired, annoyed, excited, silly, embarrassed, frustrated… These are just a few of the feelings our children experience throughout the day. For some children, they may all be felt in the span of an hour. However, despite being in the midst of this whirlwind of feelings, our expectations often demand that children be polite, behave appropriately, and learn new things. Children need a way to make sense of what they are feeling so they can remain in control. The Zones of Regulation® is a self-regulation model created by occupational therapist, Leah Kuypers, MA Ed. OTR/L, that is becoming more widely recognized in homes, schools, therapy clinics, and other locations that serve children. It helps children to classify their emotions based on color coded and easy to understand “zones.” 

“What are the zones/colors?”

The Blue Zone

  • Feelings: Tired, bored, sad, etc.
  • Actions: Yawning, frowning, head down, etc.

The Green Zone

  • Feelings: Calm, happy, focused, etc.
  • Actions: Sitting still, making eye contact, smiling, etc.

The Yellow Zone

  • Feelings: Excited, frustrated, silly, nervous, etc.
  • Actions: Fidgeting, pacing, bouncing, etc.

The Red Zone

  • Feelings: Angry, terrified, out of control, etc.
  • Actions: Yelling, hitting, crying, etc.

“Is any zone bad?”

No! Some children and adults are under the impression that the blue, yellow, and red zones are undesired and we should strive to be in the green zone all day. In reality, life would be boring if we lived in one zone exclusively. For example, at a funeral or before bed, being in the blue zone can help us to show empathy or wind down. If we’re playing tag at recess with friends, we will probably run faster if we embrace the excitement of the yellow zone. A wide range of feelings is normal and a child should never be punished for being in a particular zone. When children learn and accept that all zones are ok and experience the natural consequences that come with them, they will be more willing to try tools for moving between the zones.  

 “I’m in the red zone, now what?”

Through the Zones of Regulation® program, children learn various sensory and coping tools and strategies for moving to a more appropriate zone for the situation they are in. In the red and yellow zones, the best tools typically have a calming effect. Some great ideas to try include:

  • Asking for a hug
  • Rocking or swinging
  • Chewing gum
  • Taking a drink of water
  • Going to a quiet space
  • Listening to music
  • Taking deep breaths

“I’m in the blue zone and can’t focus. What should I do?”

There are plenty of tools that could be used to achieve greater alertness when in the blue zone. Strategies with a typically alerting effect include:

  • Running
  • Jumping jacks
  • Getting out of your seat and moving around
  • Bouncing on a ball
  • Eating a crunchy snack

Keep in mind that no two children have the same sensory needs, so the way they self-regulate may look very different. If one strategy doesn’t have the effect you desire, try another! Be creative! 

“My child would not understand this.”

The Zones of Regulation® program can be introduced at any time starting around the age of 4 and with varying developmental levels. Lessons can be kept fairly basic for young children. The wide variety of visual tools the authors of the program have published makes it possible to implement with children who are non-verbal or have other disabilities that impact their communication or social skills. It is recommended that the zones concepts are discussed as a family. This not only helps improve a child’s understanding of the material, but also normalizes the zones so that kids don’t feel like they are expected to discuss it as a form of consequence. 

“We understand the zones, what’s next?” 

The Zones of Regulation® program also includes a wide variety of lessons to increase understanding of facial expressions and body language, understanding others’ perspectives, recognizing triggers that move us quickly to another zone, understanding the scale of a problem we’re faced with and how to react accordingly, thinking positively, being flexible, and exploring sensory tools. 

Additional Resources:

5 Ways to Use Blankets for Indoor Sensory Fun

By: Easterseals Central Illinois Occupational Therapy Department

Using a blanket during play provides opportunities to address your child’s sensory processing skills, motor planning, and strength. Blanket activities can be used to provide proprioceptive (input to muscles and joints), deep pressure tactile, and vestibular (movement) input.

  • Blanket swing:

You’ll need two people for this activity.  Each adult holds one side of the blanket while the child lays inside the blanket.  Gently bounce or swing the child for vestibular input.  Slow, back and forth, movement is calming for the sensory system. Quicker movements are typically more alerting. Try incorporating language for requesting “more swinging”.  Try changing positions for sitting or lying on your stomach, side, or back.  Playfully engage your child in thematic play or songs.  Try interrupting quick movements with crashes.  Including siblings by taking turns pushing one another for heavy work. 

  • Parachute:

Hold edges of blanket and move blanket up and down/shake blanket.  You can engage in peek-a-boo by hiding underneath, put a ball/balloon on top to play “popcorn”, or change speeds.  This provides proprioceptive input and is a great way to play with your child.

  • Blanket Burrito:

Use blanket to wrap your child up into a burrito.  Have your child lay on the edge of the blanket, have them hold onto the edge, and then roll them up in the blanket tightly (leaving head free).  Provide additional deep pressure by squeezing with your hands or rolling a ball on top of your child.  You can then pull the edge of the blanket to allow the child to unroll quickly for a fast blast of sensory input.   Try playing “inch worm” by crawling across the floor or roll into items such as a block tower.

  • Blanket Sled:

Have your child sit on a blanket and pull them across the room to provide vestibular input. Vary speed to provide different intensities of input. Take turns and have your child pull a sibling or other items on the blanket for a proprioceptive “heavy work” input. Use this as a transition tool to get from one room or activity to the next.

  • Make a tent:

Use a blanket to make a tent under a table or push chairs together to make a tent. Having your child set-up the chairs addresses strength and motor planning skills; it also provides proprioceptive input. You can use this as a calming space or in pretend play.