Created by the Mom of a Child with Disabilities and Long-Time GS Patient
There’s a new “hot spot” in town that brings together children of all abilities in their own special play gym. It’s the adaptable sensory gym, Sensory Towne, opened in July, which helps children with balance, social skills, body awareness and overall development of the senses.
The students and patients at Great Strides Rehab, along with all the children the therapists work with at various fragile care centers, were recently treated to a fun night there by Dr. Edenfield, Executive Director, to check it all out. More than 25 kids, from ages three to teenagers, and their parents participated in this “patient appreciation night” swinging, sliding, playing games on interactive floors and other adventures.
Such a place did not exist in Northeast Florida and beyond before Kimberly Belzer, a mom of a son with disabilities, became determined to create her decade-long dream of a place where all abilities, whether “typical” or “special needs,” could “fit-in” and play together.
Belzer, a single parent to a multi-handicapped son, now age 14, was born with the genetic disorder Hydrocephalus, is autistic, nonverbal and has survived 16 surgeries and cancer. Brandon, and kids like him, require a lot of sensory input — spinning, rocking, calming lights, vibration, squeezing, and touching — to function during the day. Since Brandon was four, his mom has searched for, and not been able to find, an inclusive play space for children of varying needs that Brandon could enjoy.
Determined to create such an inclusive play-space, Belzer has spent years researching the best sensory input activities and equipment. She also credits Dr. Edenfield’s advice and support in helping make Sensory Towne a reality.
Dr. Edenfield and his therapists have been working with Brandon since he was two months old.
This was even before Great Strides Rehab was created, when Dr. Edenfield was working as an occupational therapist at Wolfson’s Children’s Hospital. Great Strides therapists Hanna and John Kirkland have worked with Brandon for close to a decade on many everyday skills from something as simple as pointing to learning how to feed himself and walk up steps.
“Great Strides has helped so much with Brandon’s independence so that now he can dress himself, select his own games on the I-pad, open the fridge and drawers, and get in and out of the car without assistance,” said Belzer. “They are highly caring people who will do anything to help you with your child’s needs, such as when Hanna and her husband came to my home and re-engineered Brandon’s bidet so he could push the button without turning around. “
And now Sensory Towne helps children with special needs in their development while having fun with most activities at wheel-chair level. There’s a sensory house, rolling slide, foam pits, a tactile library, motion-sensored interactive game floor, a chill spa (calming room) with vibrating bubble tubes, fiber optics and ocean sounds, rock walls and swings that spin, let a child lay-down, or allow multiple children for social interaction. There’s also an adult size changing table in the bathroom for parents that have older special needs children, and a sensory store to purchase unique sensory items.
“Since opening, we have had children of all capabilities come to play and it has been a beautiful thing to see,” said Belzer. “Sensory Towne is about kids playing together and learning about one another in the same space.”
Classes are now being formed for kids dance and yoga, music and movement, and interactive story-time. Check out listed schedules by going to www.sensorytowne.com or see all the fun on Facebook. Sensory Towne is located in the Centurion Square Shopping Center on the corner of Baymeadows Road and Philllips Highway.
“If there is something you’d like for your child and we don’t have it, tell us about it and we will try to get it,” said Belzer.
Emma picked up a ruffled pink blouse from the stack of clothes waiting to be put out for sale, placing it on a hanger. Next, she grabbed a T-shirt and hung that one up with the other blouse, carefully making sure it was placed on the rack with the girls’ shirts. Dr. Edenfield praised her as they continued to sort and hang clothes together.
Once-a-week, Dr. Jon takes Emma to Spectrum Thrift Store on State Road 13, a special thrift store that encourages teens and young adults on the Autism spectrum and with other developmental disabilities to volunteer and possibly be employed at the store. Opened in January 2018, such a store has been a dream for mom Alisa Tillman who both enjoys collecting items and refurbishing used furniture and has an Autistic son that she wants to teach business skills and ensure he has a future career. She is accomplishing both by creating Spectrum Thrift Store, and, in the process, has also helped close to a hundred other children so far from ages 16 to 23.
Dr. Jon brings Emma to increase her skills and provide social interaction, another way of encouraging her growth into more independence. And just like with Dr. Jon, many other kids with development disabilities, whether from another therapy center, The ARC Jacksonville, Reach Academy or UNF’s THRIVE program, come to the store with a job coach or occupational therapist for on-the-job training to qualify for a future job. These are not counting the students with the Bright Futures Scholarship Program that volunteer with a “buddy” to put in their required community service hours.
Although wanting to provide an opportunity for her son, Lucas, “in case no one else did for him,” Tillman has also done that for others like two Reach Academy students Ethan Anderson and Ian McFather who are employed part-time at the store. “It just inspires me that I got the job,” Ethan Anderson, 16, said. Of the 30 students from ARC that have volunteered, Tillman boasts that seven have gone on to get jobs in other businesses and five are now working at Spectrum.
What’s even more inspiring is that out of the four students from UNF’s THRIVE program that has come to Spectrum, one keeps their accounting books and does their payroll during the summer, (you can see Carter Talbert presenting Tillman with her check on their Facebook page), while student Matthew Campbell set-up and maintains Spectrum’s electronics.
You can check out the bargains while helping a worthy cause any day of the week with Spectrum open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. And say hello to Dr. Jon and Emma as they make a fun task of learning some important marketing skills.
The store is open every day during the following hours:
Monday through Friday: 10 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Sunday: 11:30 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Just six days before Christmas, Maleah has a family to call her own. The Fennell family is adopting the little girl after she was abandoned at a hospital by her biological mother.
Christmas may be a week away, but Wednesday is the morning that several families have been waiting for all year long. That’s because Judge Gooding will be presiding over multiple adoptions at the Duval County Courthouse.
From the way little Maleah clings to Alijray Fennell’s arm, it’s hard to believe she’s only been living with him and his wife, Staci, since August.
Maleah is just 6 years old and has what is known as DiGeorge syndrome. She struggles to crawl and speak and she’s fed through a gastrostomy tube. But caring for children with special needs isn’t new to Fennells, Staci is a CNA at All Kids Care of North Jacksonville. Her husband owns Al’s Kitchen and also is a driver for children with physical and mental disabilities.
In March, they got a call that Maleah had been abandoned by her biological mother while she was in the hospital and they jumped at the opportunity to help.
“He (Aljiray) was like who do we need to call? He was like ready right then, I said I don’t know but we will make some phone calls today,” says Staci Sessions-Fennell.
From their first doctor’s appointment in July, to finally being able to bring Maleah into their home in August, they say it has been incredible.
“This child I never had personally looks at me as a mother and looks at him as Dad and it’s just amazing how it happens,” says Staci with tears in her eyes.
The Fennells wanted to make it permanent, so adoption coordinators Kinsey Whyte and Rebecca Margulies from Jewish Family and Community Services helped them along the way and were also overjoyed by Maleah’s progression.
“It is a hard job and sometimes it is really hard to see what happens,’ tells Rebecca Margulies with Jewish Family and Community Services “But then we get to do stuff like this and Staci was saying how far she (Maleah) has come and she really has: physically, developmentally and emotionally. It’s really fantastic to watch.”
Though they are already a family, they can’t wait to make it official!
“Yeah, it was meant to be!” laughs Staci.
Other families like Yaacov and Erin Petscher have been waiting for a while to officially add their adopted son Teddy into their family.
“A complete stranger sent a picture of him and asked if we knew anyone who was looking to adopt someone like him and we fell in love,” Erin Petscher said.
“It’s the best gift ever because we hoped it would be by Christmas, it looked like it would be in January so it’s a special Christmas surprise he’s a part of our family with our last name and everything,” Petscher added.
It’s a gift that Judge David Gooding has given to families for over a decade. Gooding launched the Home for the Holidays event in 2004.
“We all know that a permanent family is better than the best foster care systsem in the world. We see children transition from foster care and into their families, and I’ll hear back year after year from these families about the improvement in the child and in the family,” Judge Gooding said.
Families like Joshua and Darlene Gibson adopted their first child Skylar, and they are relieved that “Gibson” became his last name.
“It’s a great day for us, it’s been a long process, about a year and a half. We’ve gone through some ups and downs, some good and bad but it’s all good now because we’ve finally got him,” Darlene Gibson said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1-in-6 children in the U.S. have some sort of developmental disability ranging from mild speech delays to serious conditions such as cerebral palsy and autism.
In an effort to meet the demand, one local rehab center in Mandarin is now expanding its reach to help kids in need in Clay County.
It’s called Great Strides Rehab Center. Their mission is aimed at enhancing the quality of life for kids and young adults with autism and special needs.
The program was started back in 2004 and operates as a one-stop shop providing multiple therapy treatments.
Dr. Jon Edenfield is the executive director and founder.
“Some of the services we offer include occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, applied behavior analysis, music therapy and I can go on and on,” he said.
When it comes to special need kids in Clay County, he said the numbers continue to rise. More than 850 kids live in Clay County with autism and there are least 8,000 kids with some form of developmental disability.
Edenfield stresses the importance for parents to be on the lookout for warning signs and triggers associated with autism and developmental disabilities.
“They may focus on particular parts of a toy versus playing with the whole toy, they may not play back and fourth with other children, or their communication may be delayed,” Edenfield said.
Laura Henry is a parent who lives in Green Cove Springs and has been traveling back and fourth to the Mandarin location for the past seven years. The new location in Orange Park will now make getting treatment more convenient. When her daughter Chelsea was 2-years-old, she knew there was a problem based on Chelsea’s behavior.
“She was completely non-verbal, that mean she wasn’t talking, she wasn’t making no sounds no coos or nothing,” Henry said.
Chelsea is now 9 years old and continues to make significant strides an improvements.
“Now she can be able to go up to anybody and say do you want to play let’s play so that’s made the biggest impact the center has made on my child’s life,” Henry said.
She added that the facility continues to bless Chelsea and her family and she encourages other parents to seek help for their children if in need.
“Don’t give up there is a program out there for you and even if it’s not this program Dr. Edenfield will help you find a program for you,” she said.
Many insurance companies offer coverage for Great Stride’s treatment services.
In addition to Clay County and Mandarin, Great Strides has also opened a clinic within the Hope Haven Children’s Center in Arlington.
For more information, the rehab visit their website or call 904.886.3228
An Overview of the Positive Benefits of Human Animal Interaction for Children with Developmental Disabilities
Part 2 in a Series
By Christina Swanson
Summer 2018 edition briefly reviewed the history of the human-animal bond and AAT’s impact on helping children with developmental disabilities. Now we focus on Dr. Edenfield’s research with children within the autism spectrum, and how the Dr. Jon and Nantuckett team is another advantage for your child.
An additional level of therapy was added to the Great Strides Rehabilitation Center and School three years ago when owner and executive director, Dr. Jon Edenfield, introduced Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) with Nantuckett, a trained Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) dog, into his extensive program.
Already known as one of northeast Florida’s first comprehensive, one-stop, multi-resource, rehabilitation centers, Great Strides Rehabilitation is the result of more than 20 years of research and study by Edenfield as an occupational therapist (OT) being guided by “observing others being assisted and finding new ways of helping people have a better life.”
His experience with the positive benefits of Human Animal Interaction(HAI) for children with developmental disabilities began when he was earning his degrees in OT at the University of Florida (UF). For years, Edenfield volunteered with UF’s hippo therapy, that helps patients with spinal cord injuries and cerebral palsy learn how to walk, and other skills, with the use of horses. Research shows a horse’s movements mimic human movements, so patients can be guided to accomplish various medical goals, like increasing their range of motion or strengthening their core, with horses.
He and his then future wife, who raised and trained horses, also helped several therapeutic riding programs that teach special needs children how to ride a horse to bolster self-esteem. Seeing the big smiles of accomplishment on the kid’s faces and knowing that therapeutic riding was producing results, the Edenfield’s hoped to one day have their own program. When they married and moved to Jacksonville in 2000, they found a home with a large lot with just that in mind. An elderly friend gifted them with his two horses and “Great Strides” was born.
So, Edenfield’s knowledge of how animals can uniquely reach and help children with disabilities began a while before he began researching how animal assisted therapy helps children with autism spectrum disorder. It ended up being his capstone project for three years while he worked toward his OT clinical doctorate, titled “Pilot Study: The physiological effects of animal assisted therapy on children with autism spectrum disorder,” at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences.
“The evidence of the health benefits in the bonding between animals and people goes back hundreds of years so why not incorporate this benefit while helping challenged children?” asked Edenfield. Early studies give evidence of the positive effects of HAI, most notably the reduction of stress-related parameters such as cortisol, heart rate, and blood pressure and an increase in improved behavior, social interaction and mood.
For the past several years, Edenfield has shared his knowledge and the process it takes to incorporate an AAT program working with children with autism through a presentation he developed for therapists and medical practitioners. Edenfield covers everything anyone could possibly need to know going back to the early history of HAI, the differences between AAT and AAA (animal assisted activity), other local facilities using AAT or AAA, and the process involved with getting, working with and incorporating a canine companion.
“My hope is that my doctorate research and overview presentation will add to the body of data that supports the use of animal assisted therapy for children with autism as well as make local practitioners aware of the history and process,” said Edenfield.
Although both provide opportunities for motivational, educational, and/or therapeutic benefits to enhance quality of life, AAT differs from AAA in that it has specified goals and objectives for each individual, is directed or delivered by a health service professional with specialized expertise in the area being worked, and the patient’s progress is measured.
Determining whether to use AAT for an individual will depend on what the therapist is evaluating and the best tool to use for this. “Much like a swing, therapy ball or other equipment or method, a practitioner will elect to use AAT because they have determined it will be a better way to teach a skill or accomplish a target,” said Edenfield. “The most important part to any successful treatment is the research and planning.”
Next: the final installment will explore the training that goes into forming the human/animal team, the results of Dr. Edenfield’s pilot study and how fostering shelter kittens are also providing another way to teach skills to students.
Great Strides Rehabilitation’s therapies for your child with disabilities, ages infant to 21, are now available in the Arlington area. Located inside the Hope Haven Hospital at 4600 Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville, Great Strides is distinct in that it is a multi-therapy center offering occupational, physical and speech therapy, applied behavior analysis, psychological services and autism evaluations at one location.
Our therapists work together with the family to provide comprehensive and coordinated care. Recognizing each family and patient are unique, it is our mission to enhance quality of life through the provision of exceptional therapy services. Our personalized team approach, utilizes evidenced based practice to provide the most effective course of intervention for your child.
“We’re excited to be able to now offer our services to benefit children with disabilities over a greater area, now giving more convenience to parents in the Arlington area,” said Dr. Jon Edenfield, DOT, OTR/L, founder and executive director.
To set up an appointment or get more information, call the main office, located in Mandarin at 12276 San Jose Boulevard, Suite 508, at 904-886-3228.
Great Strides also serves patients in Duval, Clay, St. Johns, Nassau and Flagler counties, including the cities of Jacksonville, Jacksonville , Neptune, Atlantic, Ponte Vedra, and Flagler beaches, Amelia Island, Mandarin, Nocatee, St. Johns, St. Augustine, Palm Coast, Orange Park, Macclenny, Middleburg, Keystone Heights, Palatka, Orlando and some cities in Georgia, including Brunswick, Mason, St. Marys and Waycross.
Summer Camp activities can provide opportunities to teach skills in creative ways. One fun way was to have a pizza truck come to the Great Strides campus and give kids a chance to work on their basic food ordering skills. This was AL-C classroom (last year) teacher Melissa Prescott’s idea sparked by AL-A teacher Lauren Cricchio’s established outing day at Zaxby’s that she’s been doing for a while, typically on Tuesdays.
As in previous summers, this activity combined the AL group, including students from the AL-A and AL-C classrooms. As the teacher of the AL-C classroom, I wanted to incorporate what Lauren C. was already doing. She had instituted a Zaxby’s day in which the AL-A boys went into the community for lunch. Like previous summers, the students from AL-C joined.
The day of our Zaxby’s outing (typically Tuesday) meant that the students practiced how to order. After having time to practice with his or her therapist, each student lined up to order from the “cashier” within the classroom. The cashier was always one of the teachers or therapists in the room.
Once we felt comfortable, we would venture across the street to have lunch at Zaxby’s. This was clearly everyone’s favorite weekly activity, and the students participated without hesitation. “This type of engagement demonstrates the power of community outings,” said Prescott.
The same structure was used to prepare for Rocco’s with the AL summer camp attendees working on ordering menu items within the class. Copies of the menu were sent home to parents, so they could let us know what their child wanted to eat including ensuring the menu selection for those using devices were entered in the device. That way, these kids could also select items and exchange it with the food truck employees.
All of these skills were practiced in the classroom so when the students encountered this new community experience, they would be just as engaged as their weekly Zaxby’s outing.
Everyone was excited when Rocco’s Pizzeria truck pulled up, anticipating eating some ooey-gooey pizza slices. It was a hit! All of our students (and staff!) enjoyed this new lunch option. Not only did this activity create a new community outing for the AL group program, but the food truck employees were extremely patient with our students and made them feel special.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better learning opportunity for our kids,” said Prescott.
Great Stride’s Creative, Caring Therapists Make Dreams Come True
By Christina Swanson
When the Great Strides therapist team, working with then eight-year-old Gracie Young, asked her mom, Kelly, what were some special skills she’d like for them to work on with Gracie, that’s all it took. Making this dream come true would take a lot more than a magic wand. Instead, it would involve a year-long, specifically-geared learning process from initial desire to successful completion by the therapist team, along with a fund-raiser, generous donors, Santas Dan and Danny, and lots of love and patience thrown into the mix.
But that’s what makes the people at Great Strides exceptional in their dedication to doing whatever it takes to help children with special needs and their families participate in everyday activities together that typical families just do automatically. And that’s what they were determined to do for the Young family.
Mom – Kelly’s dream was for Gracie to be able to ride a tricycle as a family activity with her mom and dad, who enjoyed riding bikes together. It was important to Kelly, not just the activity of riding itself, but of having Gracie outdoors in nature and getting some exercise. This would be no small feat for a child diagnosed with Hypotonic Cerebral Palsy, characterized by poor muscle tone and difficulty with balance and coordination of movements.
“Trying to find things that motivate Gracie to move has always been a challenge,” said Young. “When we thought about bike riding, they jumped on the idea and everything started coming together.” Yes, Gracie’s “bike therapy team” of Kelly Wassmer, lead behavioral therapist, Sarah Szymanski Horn MOT, OTR/L, occupational therapist, and John Kirkland, physical therapist were happy to teach the skills needed to get Gracie to accept and enjoy riding a trike. (Others also supporting Gracie include Sarah Feigenbaum, speech therapist, Skyler Williams, teacher, and Emma Reinheimer, staff behavioral therapist.)
When Gracie was six years old she was also diagnosed with autism and that’s when she began receiving therapies with Great Strides, specifically behavioral (ABA) therapy for the first time.
“When Gracie first came to us, she had a hard time walking, poor endurance and wanted to be carried everywhere,” said Horn. “Working on her mobility and endurance abilities, we eventually got her walking inside the classroom and outside on the playground. The next step was to find a fun activity that would keep her moving—this was the dream of being able to bike ride with the family.
Team Gracie had already come a long way in giving her a more independent life, having worked on toilet training, being able to participate in a group academic environment by sitting still and listening to the teacher, and other self-care skills.
“An effort made for the happiness of others lifts us above ourselves.”
– Lydia M. Child
Now preparing her to ride a specialty bike that would be built to her needs and body specifications, would require getting Gracie used to many sensations that could be “scary” and resisted by her. With balance and muscle weakness important factors, just getting her to accept sitting on a trike and wearing straps to support her torso took a lot of time and patience. Horn and Kirkland worked with Gracie on the action of pedaling with a special machine and put her on a regular tricycle and pushed her around to learn balance on a bike. Horn and Wassmer worked with getting Gracie to tolerate wearing a helmet, and straps that support her torso and feet to stay on the pedals that the bike would have. She was very afraid of being encumbered by all of this which took many steps and trials to accept. Finally, she “graduated” to actually practicing on the bike itself, but we’re getting ahead of all the parts of this special story.
Mom had found a specialty bike that could convert from a tricycle to a bike trailer by hooking onto one of their bikes for longer rides, but the cost was beyond what the Young’s could afford. That’s when Horn got the idea of having a fund-raiser to help the Young’s get Gracie’s special bike.
With Sarah’s husband and his brother owning “Hornski’s Vinyl Lounge” in St. Augustine, Sarah set about the many months of tasks getting donors, a band, and silent auction gifts to create the “Battle of the Beers” event to raise funds. Three St. Augustine breweries (Ancient City Brewing, Old Coast Ales, and Bog Brewing Company) donated a keg, five volunteered to work the event, the folk band Lonesome Burt and the Skinny Lizard provided the music, the Horn’s donated hotdogs, hamburgers, sodas and more beer, while sister-in-law Monica Zonni coordinated the silent auction.
The fund raiser was conducted through a 501C3 charity called Santa’s Special Kids. About 200 people participated in the event which raised more than $4,000, enough to buy the bike and have a lot left over. These funds are currently housed by the charity and are waiting to be put to good use. The plan is to be able to help those parents who children need ABA therapy but have difficulty paying for it because their insurance does not cover it. Sarah is in the process of setting up the parameters of this fund working with Candy Hurst, BCBA, Director of Applied Behavior Analysis.
Making the whole process even more meaningful, Santa delivered the special bike to Gracie on Christmas morning! Actually, it was Santa Dan and Santa Danny from Santa’s Special Kids who rapped on the Young’s door to a surprised Gracie and grateful parents. Both Horn and Wassmur had therapy visits working with Gracie on her bike and then took the bike back to Great Strides to continue working with Gracie there.
Now, after an entire year that started in March 2017, Gracie is ready to take her trike home and enjoy riding it with her parents. “It has been such a wonderful ‘ride’ seeing Gracie progressing and now being able to do something fun and outdoors with her family,” said Horn. Great Strides’ specialists determination to find creative ways to help parents with their special needs kids has been a blessing,” said Young. “They really did make this dream come true.”
“The therapists love for our kids is shown through all the creative ways they
help them grow and learn.” –Kelly Young, Gracie’s mom
Other Recent Developments that are Making a Difference for Gracie
Communication Through Proloquo2Go
With communication at the heart of everything we do, team Gracie has been working with her toward transitioning the type of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) method Gracie uses, led by her speech language pathologist, Sarah Feigenbaum MA, CCC-SLP.
When Feigenbaum began working with Gracie last summer, she was using a picture exchange communication system (PECS) that involved giving a picture (or pictures) to a communication partner. To help her advance, Sarah introduced her to the skills needed using the Proloquo2Go system on an iPad with Gracie getting her own set-up this January. Her occupational therapist determined the best button size and spacing of her iPad that Gracie would be most successful with based on her fine motor skills. Now, she is able to select what she wants to say on the device as it speaks for her, acting as her voice. Gracie has a number of understandable verbal approximations and can use her device to augment her message.
At this point in Gracie’s AAC journey, she is able to request items and actions such as videos or to go to the restroom, as well as label items we show her using her device. When learning the meaning of new words as well as where to find them in her device, Sarah is working on getting her to choose more than one word.
“We are beginning to work on verbs in combination with objects in order to help Gracie combine them to create novel messages,” said Feigenbaum. “Her lead ABA therapist reported that she recently put together the phrase, “I want go Kelly” (her mother), indicating she wanted to go home.”
In order to help Gracie learn new words, her parents are also involved, coming into sessions to learn methods to teach her to quickly navigate to new words. ABA ensures she is able to use them to communicate consistently in the classroom and other environments and also teaches her new words. Communication occurs all across all environments and it takes a multidisciplinary team in order to support and set up a child to be successful.
Skilled Canine Companions
Another new development in Gracie’s advancement that’s warm, furry and full of self-esteem boosting love is the recent adoption of Yahtzee — a canine companion for independence dog. With the application process typically taking two years, Great Strides Executive Director Jon Edenfield, helped the Young’s with the process having written his doctoral studies on the benefits of canine companions helping advance children with disabilities, especially autism, and having adopted the center’s hardest working therapist, Nantucket. One of Yahtzee’s missions is to get Gracie walking more. Their adventure together is just starting and this newsletter plans a future article on the benefits of skilled companion dogs in a future issue.
“Great Strides has held our hand from the beginning, starting with Gracie’s transition from her old school, and incorporating behavioral therapy with all her other therapies have helped her tremendously. “Gracie’s team gives us exceptional support. They work with the kids and parents on life skills even at our homes, teaching them what they need to function in society. The therapists love for our kids is shown through all the creative ways they help them grow and learn.”
Great Strides has partnered with the Nemours’ Continence Clinic to offer families a whole child approach to successful toilet training. Sometimes toileting delays are caused by medical issues, while other times they can be caused by environmental or behavioral issues. With the partnership between Nemours Continence Clinic and Great Strides Rehabilitation, your child will benefit by having all aspects of the root cause of the toileting delay being addressed.
Since the Spring of 2017, Nemours has been referring children for applied behavior analysis (ABA) with Great Strides during evaluations after testing and ruling out physical or medical conditions that could be affecting a child’s ability to learn toilet training. Great Strides has been working with families in this area since it first began offering ABA therapy in 2007. Of course, families are welcome to contact Great Strides directly to do an evaluation.
If a child’s incontinence has a medical component, Great Strides will refer the family to Nemours to correct the medical condition first.
As explained by Nemours, a child isn’t a small adult, especially when it comes to pediatric urology — when it comes to conditions affecting the kidneys, ureter, bladder, urethra, penis and testes – because their reproductive system and urinary tracts are still growing and developing. Testing for pediatric urology problems can include urinary and fecal incontinence, urinary frequency and urgency, recurring urinary tract infection (UTI), failure to toilet train and chronic constipation. Some children with disabilities may refuse to participate in scheduled toilet training programs or have an aversion to sitting on the toilet, while others may be successfully trained for urination but have to have wear pull-ups for fecal elimination.
“Once a child’s pediatrician and Nemours’ specialist have reviewed the medical aspect of the child’s incontinence, and if there are still issues, because these professionals are not trained in behavior analysis, the family would be referred to us,” explained Candy Hurst, BCBA, Director of Applied Behavior Analysis.
How Does ABA Help with Toilet Training?
Applied Behavior Analysis is the science of how the environment affects a person’s learning and behavior. Toilet training, for some kids, needs to be specifically designed with
environmental modifications to increase the opportunity for success.
Such modifications may include: increasing comfort in the bathroom, schedule of trips to the bathroom, caregiver responses to successes on the toilet and accidents. Once the child begins to experience success with toileting, the family caregivers then have something to reinforce, thus increasing the likelihood that the child will continue to have success. This schedule of reinforcement is a vital component of toilet training. The bottom line is answering: What are the issues to address and how are we going to address them?
Presently, there are seven children onboard with the “potty training boot camp” program. “There are many different things that can improve a family’s quality of life and one of the biggest things is toilet training,” said Hurst. “We encourage parents to reach out and get their child trained and out of pull-ups because even if a child is a teenager, there still is hope.”
“The Great Strides program truly works! Regardless of age, behavior issues, medical history, or diagnosis, this model is tailored made for your child. At the age of 3, my daughter (ASD and non-verbal) still wore pulls-ups and showed zero interest in the potty. Witnessing my frustration, our ABA therapists recommended their “Potty Training Boot Camp”. Admittedly, I was skeptical but committed to the process. In a matter of days, she caught on to the program. Now at 8 years old, my daughter has remained fully potty-trained (without regression).”