September Service Center Spotlight: Easterseals Central Illinois Learning Academy

Students in grades 6-12 from Easterseals Central Illinois Learning Academy went to the Morton Pumpkin Festival this month. During their trip they worked on a variety of skills including; patience, waiting in line for a ride and waiting while other friends took a turn on a ride they didn’t want to go on. Compromising, riding a ride that a friend wants to ride before riding a ride they wanted to ride. Social skills and communication, using their words to choose a ride or say “I’m hot and I need to take a break to cool off.” Time management, giving them only enough time for two more rides. Students enjoyed their time at the annual Pumpkin Fest and learned some new skills along the way!

Service Spotlight: Autism Family Navigator

Autism Family Navigators help families and caregivers “navigate” the often fragmented and confusing systems of care needed for their children with autism.  These systems include education, health, dental and behavioral care, insurance, and often other basic needs including housing and food.

Autism Family Navigators are experienced experts who:

  • Assist families by supplying or directing families to essential community-based or online resources and information
  • Help families identify their prioritized needs and craft a treatment plan to meet those needs
  • Empower families to become better self-advocates for their children and themselves
  • Work directly with medical providers, schools, public and private insurance providers to uncomplicate the system of care for each child and family.

Easterseals Central Illinois received generous grants providing funds for our Autism Family Navigator services. The three entities providing money for Autism Navigation; $35,000 Ameren, $25,000 PNC and $20,000 Wells Fargo. We would like to thank these businesses for providing us with grants. Easterseals Central Illinois would not be able to provide services to more than 5,300 families each year without contributions like these.

Easterseals Central Illlinois is excited to announce that we are also looking to hire another full-time Autism Family Navigator at our Peoria Service Center. Easterseals has been the indispensable resource for individuals and families faced with disability. We are proud to offer a variety of services that help children with disabilities and their families address life’s challenges and achieve person goals. With two service centers, one recreational campsite, and a non-public, private school, our services in Central Illinois service more than 5,300 families each year. To apply for this position, visit our Easterseals Central Illinois careers page.

What is CVI?

By Mindy S. Ely, Ph.D., Susan Sullivan, M.Ed., and Angela K. DeLost, MS, OTR/L, ATP

Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) is a brain-based visual impairment caused by damage to the brain either at birth, or later in life. CVI is not a result of problems with the eyes themselves but rather damage to the brain.  As the eye perceives light, a series of reactions occur within the brain that allow us to recognize objects, people, shape, size, distance, etc. Thus, CVI is an impairment of visual perception resulting from a variety of abnormalities within various parts of the brain.

CVI is the leading cause of visual impairment in children in developed countries. It is important to know what CVI is because early identification and intervention leads to increased opportunities to enhance outcomes for children with CVI.  Most visual impairments are caused by damage to the eye itself, but in CVI the structures of the eyes are fine, the damage is in the brain.

How is CVI diagnosed? 

Children with CVI demonstrate atypical visual behaviors very early in life. Parents are often the ones who first notice red flags such as no blink reflex, inconsistent visual attention, lack of eye contact, or unusual attraction or dislike of bright light. CVI is diagnosed when a child’s visual difficulties are not explained by the child’s eye examination.

Getting the CVI diagnosis has been one of the biggest challenges due to many eye professionals not being aware of what CVI is. Vision teachers and therapists who have experience with CVI can be advocates in helping get the diagnosis by working with families and other professionals.  An ophthalmologist, optometrist or neurologist makes the diagnosis using information from the families, the child’s medical history, assessment of visual function, and tests that measure visual responses in the brain.

How is CVI treated? CVI is an impairment, which although cannot be cured, therapists and educators working together can assist children who have CVI learn to use their vision more effectively. This can be done through environmental accommodations and rehabilitation. At Easterseals Central Illinois, staff have received training and guidance from experts and are incorporating CVI strategies into therapy sessions with children diagnosed with CVI.  Within the educational setting, teachers of the visually impaired (TVI) are specially trained educators

who work with school staff to ensure that children with CVI are able to participate in school activities alongside their classmates. Developmental Therapists for Vision (DTV’s) are also available within Illinois early intervention system to support families before their young children enter the school system. When a child has CVI, the teacher will:

  • Help identify needed accommodations within the school setting
  • Engage in intervention with the child to promote improvement in visual function over time
  • Train other school personnel on the individual visual needs of the child.

What are the biggest misconceptions around CVI?

One of the biggest misconceptions is that all children with CVI also have additional impairments. In fact, children can have CVI without any other limitations, or they can have CVI in conjunction with other diagnoses such as cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and genetic conditions.  It is also important to understand that there is no one specific protocol when treating a child with CVI. Each child has specific needs that require an individualized approach.  Another big misconception is that children who have CVI will have typical vision if they work to resolve their visual deficits. Instead, while the use of vision may improve with accommodations, the child is likely to always require some accommodations to be successful in school and daily living.

What are some ways that teachers, families and therapists can adapt activities for children with CVI?

Some key accommodations include:

  • Simplification of the visual environment
  • Giving the child time to organize visual information
  • Encouraging the child to physically investigate the visual scene (typically by touching with hands).

All of the above should be done with minimal competing stimuli such as sounds, smells, surrounding busyness and movement, physical discomfort, etc. Ongoing assessment is also important so the team can readjust the environment as the child’s vision improves a

How is CVI treated?

CVI is an impairment, which although cannot be cured, therapists and educators working together can assist children who have CVI learn to use their vision more effectively. This can be done through environmental accommodations and rehabilitation. At Easterseals Central Illinois, staff have received training and guidance from experts and are incorporating CVI strategies into therapy sessions with children diagnosed with CVI.  Within the educational setting, teachers of the visually impaired (TVI) are specially trained educators

who work with school staff to ensure that children with CVI are able to participate in school activities alongside their classmates. Developmental Therapists for Vision (DTV’s) are also available within Illinois early intervention system to support families before their young children enter the school system. When a child has CVI, the teacher will:

  • Help identify needed accommodations within the school setting
  • Engage in intervention with the child to promote improvement in visual function over time
  • Train other school personnel on the individual visual needs of the child.

What are the biggest misconceptions around CVI? One of the biggest misconceptions is that all children with CVI also have additional impairments. In fact, children can have CVI without any other limitations, or they can have CVI in conjunction with other diagnoses such as cerebral palsy, hydrocephalus, and genetic conditions.  It is also important to understand that there is no one specific protocol when treating a child with CVI. Each child has specific needs that require an individualized approach.  Another big misconception is that children who have CVI will have typical

vision if they work to resolve their visual deficits. Instead, while the use of vision may improve with accommodations, the child is likely to always require some accommodations to be successful in school and daily living.

What are some ways that teachers, families and therapists can adapt activities for children with CVI?

Some key accommodations include:

  • Simplification of the visual environment
  • Giving the child time to organize visual information
  • Encouraging the child to physically investigate the visual scene (typically by touching with hands).

All of the above should be done with minimal competing stimuli such as sounds, smells, surrounding busyness and movement, physical discomfort, etc. Ongoing assessment is also important so the team can readjust the environment as the child’s vision improves and/or the child’s needs change. 

A Central Illinois family revealed their desperate need for awareness and education regarding Cortical/Cerebral Visual Impairment (CVI) as they worked with their child’s Occupational Therapist at Easterseals Central Illinois.  As a result, Easterseals, in collaboration with vision professionals, is leading the effort to intentionally and thoughtfully bring CVI awareness and quality CVI Programming to Central Illinois.

If you would like more information on CVI, the following websites have a wealth of information.

www.Cvi.aphtech.org

www.cviscotland.org

www.strategytosee.com

http://www.littlebearsees.org

http://www.Eastersealsci.com.

Easterseals Central Illinois provides exceptional services to ensure that children with developmental delays and disabilities can reach their full potential.  For 100 years, they have been the leader in partnering with families to identify and meet the needs of their children.  You may contact Easterseals Central Illinois at (309)686-1177.  The have two locations in Peoria and Bloomington.

About the Authors:

Mindy S. Ely, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor of Low Vision/Blindness Programs at Illinois State University; Susan Sullivan, M.Ed. is the CVI Project Leader, American Printing House for the Blind; and Angela K. DeLost, MS, OTR/L, ATP is VP of Program Services, Occupational Therapist Easterseals Central Illinois

Easterseals 100 Rider Feature: David Oznowitz

David has been cycling seriously since 2016.

He shares that his favorite part of cycling is when he is in the woods on his MTB and out on the scenic country roads in Central Illinois – particularly in the Fall.

David finds great empowerment in cycling. He states that physical sports, by definition, require a certain degree of physical ability that tends to exclude some participants.  Cycling has done more than almost any other sport to be inclusive, as the industry has engineered cycles to accommodate almost everyone.  

David has been involved with Easterseaks for 16 years since his good friend John Pratt encourage him to become involved. “I visited Timber Pointe and knew right away I wanted to be involved in helping these kids.”

His favorite rides occur with friends when they can get together and cycle in a ride that supports a great cause. “Races can be a good way to challenge yourself, but nothing beats a ride with friends knowing that you’re helping others.  Proper hydration afterwards is also a crucial part of the experience.”

Easterseals 100 Bicycle Ride Featured Rider: Ron Malik

Ron has been hand cycling since the early 1990’s.

Before cycling, and even now, he participated in various marathons (including Peoria, Chicago and Boston) in a racing wheelchair. His first wheelchair racing experience occurred in 1976 during his college days at the University of Illinois. Since then he has taken part in many races and marathons throughout the United States.  He retired from racing in the mid-1980s, and began hand cycling in 1994 as an activity he could do with his family, particularly his 4-year-old son. From that point forward, they participated in many family cycling events, and would travel to Dubuque, IA once or twice a year to cycle the trails together. In 2006, his sons decided to run the Steamboat Classic in order to earn their Personal Fitness Badge – necessary to become Eagle Scouts. Ron began coaching and working out with them, and before he knew it, was participating in marathons again. After a wrist injury a few years later, he had to retire from using the racing wheelchair and began using the hand cycle exclusively. With the help of Joe Russell at Russell’s Cycling and Fitness, Ron built a racing hand cycle. Since this point, Ron has completed numerous marathons locally and across the US in his hand cycle. 

Ron enjoys all aspects of cycling. Whether he is participating in challenging rides and races, enjoying more leisurely rides, riding with others or alone, Ron loves the way cycling makes him feel.  For him, cycling is a mental frame of mind that allows him to focus on improving overall health, stimulate his brain while riding challenging courses, and just relax while riding through the countryside. He also admits that his favorite part is when he is done and his Garmin flashes, signaling that he has set a new personal record!

For Ron, sports has always been an activity where he feels he can compete with non-disabled peers, and that having a variety of adaptive sports has given him this feeling. Hand cycling has given him empowerment from social, parental and competitive venues.  He shares that some of their best family memories have come from riding trails together, and the hand cycle created a way for him to participate. He was able to be a part of the evolution of the family tradition, pulling their youngest son in a kid kart behind the hand cycle the first few years, and then watching him go from a three-wheeled tricycle to his own bicycle. Ron shares that each time they shared an experience cycling, he felt great because he was doing something “ANY DAD” would do!  Just a little different.

Ron has been a huge advocate and worked diligently to get wheelchair and hand cycling in to races everywhere. He was the first “adaptive racer” at races in Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Kansas.  His mission is similar to that of Easterseals – to promote inclusion and to help individuals with disabilities become empowered through developing their own skills through coaching and hard work. He has had the distinct privilege of wearing a Team USA uniform in three different wheelchair sports.

In 2017, at the age of 63, Ron started a goal of doing 50 marathons, in 50 states, in 50 months to raise money for The National Wheelchair Sports Camp at Ironwood Springs Christian Ranch where he coaches archery every year.  He is proud to state that he is over halfway done. At the NWCSC at Ironwood Spring he has worked with individuals ranging from 8 to 68 years of age. His goals range beyond the United States, as part of his fundraising efforts Ron is also working to promote sports in Africa at a mission for individuals with disabilities. 

Remember the three “P’s” when going back to school

Prepare, Plan, Praise

By Margaret Jones, MSW, LCSW

Many parents look forward to sending children back to school in the fall, but it can be a stressful time for kids and parents. Help ensure a smooth back to school transition for your child with the three “P’s”, prepare, plan, and praise. Planning for the start of the school year and helping your child prepare are essential parts of the back to school process. Praising your child for their efforts can build confidence that will help them be successful in school.

Preparing your young child for preschool or kindergarten: 

  • Make the First Five Count! Make sure you know your child’s strengths and needs by completing an educational screening. Use Easterseals’ online screening tool for kids up to 5 years old. 
  • Have your child memorize their full name, address, and phone number. Make sure that you have your child practice writing out this information.
  • Give your child jobs around the house to get them in the habit of following directions. Help your child develop a sense of pride in their accomplishments by praising them.
  • Work with your child on learning letters and numbers.
  • Read to your child. Books about starting school are a wonderful way to prepare your child for their first day.
  • Talk to your child about your first day of school. Let your child know that even mom and dad felt excited and nervous when starting school. 
  • Discuss with your child what to expect on the first day of school.
  • Use a timer to help your child focus for specific periods of time. This will help them get ready for classroom routines.
  • Praise your child during play, encourage them to take turns, wait, and share. This will help them be ready to do those things at school.
  • Plan time every day to talk with your child about their experiences at school.

Preparing any age child to return to school:

  • Take time to tour the school and meet the teacher, your child can join you for these activities.
  • Go school supply shopping with your child. Establish a place in your home where school supplies will be stored so kids know where to put their things.
  • Resume school year morning and bedtime routines a few weeks ahead of time so that children are ready when school starts.
  • Review the screen time rules for the school year. Determine when, where, and how much screen time your child should have.
  • Encourage your child to get involved in activities at school or in the community.
  • Find ways to be involved in your child’s classroom or extracurricular activities.
  • Plan time every day to talk to your child about their experiences at school.
  • Establish a specific place, like an office or the kitchen table, where kids will do their homework.
  • Plan an after school schedule for your child that includes snack, relaxation, play, and study.
  • Praise your child for their successes at home and school.

Additional Reading and Resources:

Margaret Jones, MSW, LCSW
Margaret Jones is a counselor at Easterseals Central Illinois. She is passionate about helping children and families. She has 15 years’ experience working with children. She is also a professor in the School of Social Work at Illinois State University.

August Service Center Spotlight: Bloomington Service Center

Reece, Dezi, our VP of Development in Bloomington, Cathy Oloffson, and our President & CEO, Steve Thompson, at the Ribbon Cutting.

Our very own Easterseals Ambassador Reece and his mom Dezi came out to celebrate The Harmony Park Project ribbon cutting this month. Reece, along with other kiddos enjoyed Bloomington’s New Harmony Park Project playground.

Harmony Park is the first entirely accessible and fully-inclusive playground in Bloomington. The new playground replaces the current structure at Rollingbrook Park. The playground design is by Cunningham Recreation, a leader in designing inclusive playgrounds to encourage and stimulate children of all ages and abilities.

August Service Center Spotlight: Peoria Service Center

One of our Swimmy Seals enjoying her class with her instructor, Lauren!

Easterseals kiddos the “Swimmy Seals” completed their Water Seals Group classes this month. The Water Seals group classes provide kiddos with water safety and aquatic social skills that focused on helping children with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder thrive in the water.

Kiddos successfully completed the goals of this class, including helping improve water safety, social skills, motor planning, and sensory processing ability in a warm water setting.

Congratulations to our Swimming Seals for successfully completing Water Seals!

August Service Center Spotlight: Easterseals Learning Academy

Fun on the first day of school! A student enjoying a back to school activity at the ESLA.

Easterseals Learning Academy welcomed back students this month! Students started their 1st day back to school with warm welcomes from their teachers and fellow classmates. Just like the 1st day back at any school, some students were nervous, while others were ready to dive back into the day to day activities and routine at the Learning Academy.

ESLA aims to provide students with disabilities access to a more inclusive and sensory friendly school experience. The Learning Academy is designed with a high staff to student ratio, fully equipped classrooms and therapy rooms, evidenced based instructional strategies that empower each student to achieve peak academic performance, increase social and emotional skills, communication skills and functional like skills for independence. 

August Service Center Spotlight: Timber Pointe Outdoor Center

Kris Hinderks has worked at Timber Pointe Outdoor Center as the Kitchen Director for the past 6 years. A different camp comes in each week and they range anywhere from 50 to 250 campers.

Kris, bottom center, surrounded by campers and counselors during one of this summer’s camp sessions.

“I plan, manage and prepare all of the meals from the moment they arrive at camp until the last meal is served. On average, I feed about 60,000 meals during the 10 weeks of summer camps. Seeing all the happy and joyful faces from the campers is what inspires me to keep coming back to Timber Pointe each summer. I have built some lasting friendships with some of the returning campers and I look forward to seeing their smiles and receiving their hugs each year I see them! The thing that I love most about Timber Pointe is that we are all one big family helping and supporting each other.”