At Great Strides We Make Everyday Lives Better By Christina Swanson
Parenting a child with special needs requires meeting a host of challenges with positive determination, patience and unwavering persistence as the child grows and needs change. Eyes and hearts are opened as family members learn gratitude for everyday things and how simple hygiene and basic tasks, which are normally learned with ease and taken for granted, can be a difficult and pain-staking exercise for a disabled child and a time-intensive ritual for the child’s professional therapists, parents or caregiver.
A big part of Great Stride’s focus is to work as a team with the child, parents and/or caregiver, and teacher outside the classroom to help them learn the skills to be more independent which, in turn, increases the child’s confidence and potential to adapt and learn other skills while freeing-up the parent to meet the other many requirements of their day.
Recently, two Great Strides professional therapists extended their caring reach to teach a student/patient specific tasks by adapting equipment and creating specialized exercises that truly goes above and beyond their duties and speaks volumes to their dedication. Conquering something as seemingly simple as getting in and out of mom’s car and being able to clean oneself after using the toilet, has been a true victory for the child and family alike.
The Bidet Adaption Challenge
Young Brandon Belzer is a Great Strides outpatient who receives both occupational and physical therapy within a close collaborative team approach where his mom, Kimberly Belzer, is highly involved. When Kimberly got the idea to install a bidet on her toilet to relieve her having to be with Brandon every time he used the bathroom, his therapists went to work at teaching Brandon about the many hand and arm movements needed for him to turn the small knob that operated this bidet so he could be self-sufficient.
But Brandon didn’t seem to have the strength or ability to understand the proper way to make the knob turn which set in motion another innovative Great Strides success story thanks to the creative construction of Great Strides Executive Director, Dr. Jon Edenfield, OTD, OTR/L, Brandon’s occupational therapist, Hilda Harrison, and an innovative installation at Brandon’s home by Hilda’s husband, Wayne Powell, who is an engineer. This team looked into ways of adapting the equipment to the skill level of what Brandon could do. In looking for additional products that could change the bidet to have an easy button for Brandon to push instead of turning a knob, there was nothing available on the market. So, Edenfield, Harrison and Powell set to designing adaptive equipment from available parts and combining them together into a final “adaptive” product that’s not available in a store or even yet invented.
Using regular water lines, a lawn sprinkler valve, a low voltage power supply, and a Big Red button type switch, the bidet was adapted, allowing it to bypass the knob operation. This adaptation resulted in a major functional outcome for Brandon who now independently operates his bidet every day using the Big Red switch. Both Kimberly and Brandon are thrilled!
“As special needs parents, we are always trying to make our kids as independent as possible and have them be less vulnerable and dependent on others to perform everyday function which, of course, helps them grow and makes it a lot easier for us as parents,” explained Kimberly. “Now Brandon can go to the bathroom independent without me having to constantly get up and help him. The people at Great Strides are truly amazing in their caring because they know it is really about helping the children. It is a blessing to me that Great Strides is a true partner in helping our children become functional.” The Entering/Leaving Car Challenge
Another easy to take for granted ability is to be able to get in and out of a car unaided. If you think about it, it’s kind of a complicated motion involving crouching forward, lifting the initial leg, ducking the head, etc.
Brandon’s physical therapist, John Kirkland, initiated a simulated car therapy based on observational gait analysis and Brandon’s known history of visual impairment, increased extensor tone, rigid adherence to routine, aversion to novel tasks and limited verbal and comprehension abilities. It appeared the inability of Brandon to transfer from the parking lot or driveway into his mom’s SUV keyed upon his inability to step up and translate his center of mass forward while in a crouch stance. Kirkland determined that a small portion of this task was challenging for Brandon. However, this part task was essential due to the relatively low head clearance and high floorboard relative to the ground in mom’s SUV. There were also concerns with his ability to pivot into his car seat once he steps into the car.
Kirkland used the principles of over-training, part task training, meaningful rewards, and verbal and tactile cueing with Brandon. He did this by creating a simulated physical situation where he hung a piece of cardboard horizontally from the clinic ceiling to replicate the car ceiling, used a step-up bench that approximated the height of the floorboard of the car and an object on the seat that required him to pivot in order to sit down. The cardboard was painted to match the color of mom’s car and several other objects were used to simulate the bench seat of the car.
Then everything was set for Brandon to practice stepping up under a low ceiling with the bandwidth of reward, cueing, and assistance appropriately withdrawn.
The key was Brandon’s ability to generalize the task to his mom’s car, which he successfully accomplished after only two to three trials. A total success and the cost of the project was a nominal $6.00 but helping make mom’s life easier is – PRICELESS!
What initially drew you to choose a career helping improve the lives of children with disabilities?
Since childhood I “sensed” people’s feelings and attitudes, things about a person that weren’t verbally expressed. Psychology became my passion in college years, but I still was not totally satisfied. I met a pediatric Occupational Therapist whose influence and counsel were so significant that I changed majors, university, and professional course. OT became the bridge between psychology and the art and science for practical and functional interventions into a person’s daily life.
Have you been touch personally in this area?
You should ask how important is waking up every morning. For over 35 years as an Occupational Therapist, I look forward to each work day, to the discovery of children’s potentials, sharing with team members, learning from families, and challenged with each gift in which “problems” are often wrapped. With the support of owner Jon Edenfield, team work, and family involvement evidence occurs every day that miracles happen at GSR.
How long have you worked for Great Strides Rehab and in what capacity(ies)?
I have worked at GSR for 12 years, beginning when the owner had just 2 employees and a clinic about the size of one of our therapy rooms. I serve as staff OT within a team of about 50 professionals to include ABA, Occupational Therapy, Speech Pathology, Physical Therapy, Music Therapy, Nutrition, and administrative staff across settings to include public and private school systems, medically complex outpatient settings, and the GSR center-based private school and preschool. Watching GSR grow with such excellence over these years is beyond exciting.
Tell us about your history and career background.
I have been fortunate to work as an Occupational Therapist in many different types of settings to include university teaching hospitals providing therapy in both neonatal intensive care units (NICU) and pediatric intensive care units (PICU), a cerebral palsy rehab facility, childrens hospitals, school systems, and private practice. These facilities supported professional activities to include grant writing to procure NICU related NIDCAP staff training and a computer technology grant from Easter Seals. I taught Level II and Level I OT and OT Assistant fieldwork students for 20 years from which I probably learned more than I taught. I worked on multi-disciplinary medical teams to include ECMO ( based on a heart-lung bypass machine), a post heart transplant feeding program, neurology and orthopedic rhizotomy treatment team, and a radiology department swallow study team. I have published one national pediatric research paper on the play of children with disabilities and one state wide adult-related research paper on sensation restoration. I have presented papers at national and state conferences related to children’s head injury, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, and fieldwork supervision. And last but not least, I have been fortunate to serve with distinguished colleagues lobbying for children’s healthcare.
Inform us on your educational accomplishments: Degrees earned, Certifications, any related Organization memberships?
Children and families needs are multi-dimensional as it is for all of our lives. I am fortunate to have received post-professional certifications related to my passion with Sensory Integration, Neuro-Developmental Training (NDT), and multiple trainings with pediatric feeding and swallowing. As with an iceberg, only 15% is visible above water and 85% is underwater unseen. These advanced trainings have helped give insight into the 85% of what in not seen in children on first look, especially when combined with a GSR team approach.
What do you enjoy most about working at Great Strides?
Getting to know and meaningfully engage with families and children is a profound privilege at GSR. The depth of family engagement within a team approach at GSR surpasses any work setting in which I have worked.
What is one fun fact most people don’t know about you or something that makes you smile?
Balance with work, play, rest, and leisure is a basic tenet of Occupational Therapy. When not working, I ride my Harley Davidson Sportster, scuba dive, or just work in the yard and garden. My husband Wayne Powell, who is an electrical engineer by profession, and I were married underwater 20 years ago, so we often combine a motorcycle and scuba diving trip in the Florida Keys. We just bought an RV and made our first cross country trip to Arizona and Utah, motorcycles in tow.
What is your favorite inspirational quote or motto?
I have a few years “under my belt” and more than one guiding quote. But for today, here goes a blended version: Live well, laugh often and insanely, love truly, live in prayer, and forgive quickly. And work like you don’t need the money, love like you have never been hurt, and dance like no one is watching. But a favorite is Matthew 19:26: “With God all things are possible.”
Finding Common Ground with the Insurer originally published in the (Florida Assoc of Behavior Analysts) FABA Observer Summer 2017 By Matt Briere-Saltis
Insurance Companies and ABA providers often find themselves in an ostensibly unenviable relationship. One side is seeking to mitigate their financial investment while the other attempts to mitigate the effects of an often lifelong, debilitating disorder. And yet the two coexist every day, discussing authorizations for ABA treatment, often debating the question of medical necessity.
Every funding source of ABA has a slightly nuanced understanding of what is medically necessary. Some definitions are shaped by very informed and sincere men and women with appropriate medical, psychological, educational, and behavior analytic experience. Some, unfortunately, are shaped by borrowed legal precedent and misguided priorities. And most fall somewhere in the middle, generally accepting that ABA is appropriate to treat deficits with Activities of Daily Living, Communication, Problem Behavior, Social Skills, Language Building, etc.. Some will require that no educational targets be set, others will deny coverage for vocational skills training, and others still will not fund in the absence of notable problem behavior.
It is important to be prepared to experience the full gamut of definitions when you are interacting with funding sources, which often are private insurance agencies. Insurance agencies typically can give some information electronically or over the phone regarding general policies on what they define as medically necessary for ABA therapy. But another funding source that’s important to consider is the self-pay family. They may have a different understanding of what is medically necessary, and it may be a vital step for you to have the same type of discussion regarding ethical standards of treatment with a parent as you might with an insurance representative.
The discovery of common ground also involves having the right documentation. Again most insurance providers that fund a large number of ABA plans will have designated forms, and information that they request. There may also be requests for additional information after the original forms have been submitted. The individual that is able to submit this documentation in a timely and accurate manner will always have a leg up.
Ultimately, success when communicating with insurers comes down to pleasant persistence. And that often manifests as plenty of phone calls, emails, faxes, and face palms. But communication is important, and it can sometimes be tempting to multitask while communicating, especially when there is graphing to be done. But it can also detract from the conversation. Being prepared and being present will likely reduce the number of future phone calls. Being pleasant is just a good thing to shoot for.
Matt Briere-Saltis is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA), certified PCM instructor, and certified PCIT therapist. Matt has served the last two years as the Clinical Program Manager for Great Strides’ Outpatient department. The Outpatient department serves clients out in the community, in both public and private schools as well as home based programs. Matt has worked in the field of Behavioral Health for a little over a decade now, having worked in hospital settings, group homes, clinics, and as an expert witness. In addition to providing training and supervision to staff members at Great Stride, and administrative support to the Great Strides Leadership team, Matt has written and been interviewed for multiple publications, including the FABA Observer.
Did You Know? ABA therapy for Down Syndrome Covered by Insurance Did you know that the Florida Senate passed a House Bill in March of 2016 to require insurance companies to pay for ABA therapy for individuals with Down Syndrome to the same degree as for individuals with Autism? Most insurance plans began including this coverage at the start of their plan year, which for many was January 2017. This means that your child could receive 20-30 hours per week of interventions to improve your child’s and family’s quality of life. Have a young child? Contact us about our Early Intervention Preschool Program and to find out more on insurance coverage for ABA therapy!
The Great Strides School PE program was trialed two years ago by taking the advanced learners to Chuck Rogers’ park to learn and eventually play a modified soccer game with staff. We now offer PE every school day in each school classroom facilitated by a classroom PE Lead and supervised by the school’s Physical Therapist to assist with any physical accommodations needed for the students.
This program was developed by Rebecca Kilgore, PT, DPT, BCaBA, a licensed physical therapist and board certified assistance behavior analyst, who explains,
“The goal for our school’s PE program is to assist our students in learning the fundamental building blocks for play, sports, coordination, and cardio/muscle endurance all while having fun and interacting with staff and peers.”
Why PE is Important for Kids with Autism Physically active children have better circulation, muscle tone and maintain a healthy weight. While physical activity is healthy for all children, goes even farther with autistic children. Autistic children experience an increased attention span after aerobic activity. Physical education with autistic children is also effective at controlling some inappropriate behaviors associated with autism, according to John O’Connor in the article “Understanding Autism” published in Palestra.
Autistic children experience difficulties in interpersonal relationships that manifest in avoiding affection, play or participation in physical activities, avoiding eye contact and being unable to relate normally to other people and situations. Including autistic children in physical education is complicated by autistic children’s inability to cope with normal tactile stimuli. The result is that many autistic children possess low levels of physical fitness.
Exercise and sports may help to prevent problem behavior such as aggression, and it may help socialization in autistic children, according to the Association For Science In Autism Treatment. Autistic children are not typically motivated to play in games with other children and may engage in inappropriate behavior because of sensory over-stimulation. Instructional programs that include only autistic children can have similar challenges as with mixed classes to include inappropriate behaviors, reluctance to participate, stimulus distractions, short attention span and abrupt outbursts or regression during exercise.
Creative techniques are needed to increase children with disabilities’ participation in physical activities which is why it is so important to have your child working with the professional technicians at Great Strides.
Five Year ABA Student Plays Cello in Jr Symphony! By Christina Swanson
When the Jacksonville Symphony Youth Orchestra (JSYO) plays its first concert of the season in November, one of Great Strides youngsters will be performing at their first concert, too, as part of the Foundations Strings ensemble. At only eight years old, Kile Keene is another Great Stride super hero demonstrating how consistent hard work by “Team Kile” — his therapists and music teacher — can make all the difference in achieving developmental milestones.
Mary Westwood, Kile’s behavior therapist, has been working with Kile, both at his school and at the GS clinic, since he was three years old. This special relationship began when Kile first attended a special needs pre-kindergarten class at a private school. Westwood worked with Kile, a caring youngster with autism, helping him learn basic behavioral skills so he could eventually start attending his neighborhood’s public school, Hickory Creek Elementary, by the time he entered the first grade.
“Mary has been instrumental in integrating Kile into a classroom setting and his being able to go to public school,” said Windy Keene, Kile’s mom. “She instructs Kile on many skills, including social and academic, both with his teacher in the classroom and at the GS clinic, provides input to Kile’s IEP goals, and attends IEP meetings with me, all helping Kile to be successful.”
As Kile advances in such behaviors as interacting with his peers, Westwood has less classroom involvement in now his third grade year. She checks on him during recess, and works at the clinic with him for four hours per week, some of that one-on-one promoting motor planning skills to help the body and brain to work together in breaking down the steps involved in accomplishing specific tasks. Along with Westwood, Team Kile also includes Great Strides occupational, speech and physical therapists who help build upon his skills and accomplishments.
When Kile was three years old, his mom discovered he has a perfect pitch so they started him on piano lessons at the Orchard Kingdom. This was no easy task due to children on the autism spectrum having motor difficulties (where, in this case, the brain doesn’t cooperate in telling his fingers to press the right keys) involving more hands-on by both Westwood and mom.
Two years ago, Kile chose to add learning how to play the cello, diligently taking both piano and cello lessons several times a week. This has meant additional challenges in motor skills with Westwood working on such activities as how to pack and unpack his cello bag. When Kile’s cello teacher suggested him trying out for the JSYO this summer, he also worked with Kile on musical expectation for tryouts so he’d be ready.
String instruments are said to be the most difficult of musical instruments to learn and as mom noted, “It takes a lot for his brain to compute for even something as seemingly simple as holding the instrument.” If you google “learning to play the cello” you’ll learn that many accomplished musicians state that the cello is as “very hard to play as it is very easy to be out of tune” because the Cello has a very long fingerboard. This means it takes lots of practice to learn to find the right spot while requiring the player to focus both arms on the correct bowing and fingering, and requires learning to read music for the only instrument that uses three clefs — bass, treble, and tenor.
So, choosing to play the cello and winning a spot on the JSYO are no small feats! Kile and the JSYO’s first season performance is the Fall Concert on November 19 at the Jacoby Symphony Hall of the Florida Times Union Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Jacksonville.
Another huge accomplishment for Kile this summer was learning how to independently ride his bike. Kile’s GS physical therapist since he was four, John Kirkland, had been working with Kile for many months on balancing on his bike without training wheels and felt an added “push” might be just the boost Kile needed to make it happen. So, Kirkland suggested Kile attend “iCan Bike,” a bike camp for special needs children affiliated with the international nonprofit “iCan Shine.” This year, the five-day camp was offered in Florida in Orlando the first week of August, and was the perfect boost Kile needed to start riding independently and work on his social skills with new friends.
“Through the therapies at Great Strides, Kile is opening up and more willing to interact with his peers, in large part to his GS social skills group where they learn to listen and respond appropriately to peer interaction,” explained Keene.
“This has been a wonderful year of learning for Kile as he has been able to make friends and invite classmates over to ride bikes and swim together,” said Keene. “I am thankful to be around such great people and a talented team of therapists who are constantly on board promoting “Team Kile” — he’s a great kid who works very hard.”
— Here’s More About iCan Bike Camp
iCan Bike camp is a part of the international nonprofit iCan Shine that collaborates with area organizations to provide 100, five-day iCan Bike camps throughout the US and Canada each year. Their goal is to help children with disabilities (specifically geared to Down syndrome and autism) experience the joy of independently riding a conventional two-wheel bike.
Dr. Rebecca Kilgore, PT, DPT, BCaBA – both a licensed physical therapist and board
certified assistance behavior analyst – and why that’s EXCEPTIONAL
By Christina Swanson
As a child grows and learns reaching typical milestones, it’s easy to take everyday things for granted, like putting on closed-toed shoes or interacting with peers playing a simple game. Unless you’re the parent of a child on the autism spectrum or other special need. Then something as simple as walking on the grass can be difficult for a child with sensory aversion as the grass can feel to them like spiders crawling on their ankles.
Imagine the heart-felt joy for family members to watch their child with disabilities play an organized sport, albeit on a reduced scale, knowing it meant overcoming so many challenges and learning enough social, verbal, physical and gross motor skills to be part of a team. At Great Strides Rehabilitation Clinic and School in Mandarin, such an accomplishment came true for many of their 13 to 17 year-old-students in large part to the unique talents and skill sets of Dr. Rebecca Kilgore, PT, DPT, BCaBA, who is both a licensed physical therapist and board certified assistance behavior analyst.
So how is this unique and why is having both specialties an advantage to such children and their parents? Whether physical, speech, or occupational, a therapist’s studies and internships are on a set course that differs from a certified behaviorist’s path. Yet many children with special needs, require help in all of these disciplines to reach developmental targets. Let’s say a patient has behavior issues and throws a ball at the physical therapist rather than doing a particular exercise with it. Because the physical therapist deals with body improvements, they would not be trained in how to redirect this aggression. With both disciplines needed for the child to improve, it’s more efficient and targeted to have one person be able to immediately teach what’s needed. Also, the act of physical therapy itself is not usually fun since stretching areas can hurt, so a physical therapist who is also behavioral certified can help the child stay motivated to finish the session.
Kilgore has learned through her own experience that combining athletics with behavior therapy is a winning combination toward helping kids with special needs advance. She also focuses on teaching parents how to better set up their environments to help develop their children as they grow. “This additional degree has allowed me to work with parents on behaviors they would like to decrease to feel comfortable taking their kids into the community, while improving understanding of how exercise tolerance or even severe physical disabilities can be overcome or functionally assisted so their child can participate in everyday activities,” explained Kilgore.
When Kilgore, along with other Great Stride specialists, set up and prepared students for an “in-house” soccer team two years ago, it was truly a huge triumph in every discipline from social skills (sharing the ball, winning/loosing, congratulating and cheering on peers), to teaching step-by-step motor imitation and physical skills down to the very act of how to kick the ball. They worked on attention span and remaining engaged as well as their physical capacity for the game.
“I believe if a child can’t physically keep up with their friends or kids their age, then they are left behind which makes developing social skills nearly impossible,” said Kilgore. “Typically, when kids are difficult to manage, parents keep them home and limit their exposure to other kids, which, of course, impacts both physical and social capacities. Athletics is a great way to tackle and overcome all of this.”
The kids wore neon green jerseys that they designed themselves with their nicknames printed on the back. Many had therapy to get them to wear the jersey, sneakers and kick the ball on grass. So when the parents got to see their child play as a team for the first time it was a monumental achievement that gave them hope in their child’s potential.
“I am most passionate about how physical capabilities affects behavior and how behavior effects physical capabilities,” said Kilgore. When she joined Great Strides in 2011 as a behavioral instructor with a bachelor’s in psychology, she soon became a Board Certified assistance Behavior Analyst (BCaBA) lead running classrooms and teaching other assistants while going to college full time toward earning her behavior analyst certification. During her doctorial studies, which she completed in May 2017 from Nova Southeastern University in Tampa, Fla., Kilgore evaluated and treated patients with various orthopedic and developmental/neurological conditions as well as postsurgical and medically fragile oncology patients, incorporating a range of therapy mediums including aquatic therapy and youth sports.
With Great Strides known for its innovative approaches, from karate classes to vocational opportunities with local businesses, Kilgore is excited about presently creating a Physical Ed program for the Great Strides’ school that combines physical and behavioral therapy as basic PE goals for the school’s kids ages five through 21. “All kids with disabilities, especially those with autism, need to experience social contact where they learn how to relate to their peers and vice-versa,” said Kilgore. “Through PE, these kids will get stronger, coordinated and learn the steps they are missing to be able to interact with other kids on the playground.”
If Kilgore sounds passionate about helping children with disabilities learn the skills needed to have a productive life and make their parents happy as they improve, well, yes, it’s her life purpose. And she doesn’t back down. That’s because she knows what it’s like to overcome a handicap herself. And that the seemingly impossible can happen when you have someone helping who refuses to give up—which for Kilgore was her dad who instilled in her that the things in life that are worth doing aren’t usually easy.
As a youngster, her arm was so badly broken from a horse-riding accident that doctors wanted to amputate. Her dad refused and after the casts were removed and much PT, doctors said she’d never extend her elbow. But her dad had other plans, enrolled her in softball and worked on her swing and throw for a year with her ultimately becoming a good softball player.
“This experience taught me that just because something bad happens it doesn’t have to define you; and just because someone says you have to do something one way to get better, if it’s not working, try something else,” explained Kilgore. “My kids at Great Strides inspire me everyday to be creative. You can’t work from a preplanned list of exercises with these kiddos because they need more than that. And their families also need more than that.”
“So many kids out there that seem to be discouraged because people only see the different outward behaviors rather than look for the good in these children,” said Kilgore. “I want to work with getting them past that, teach them the skills to have a better life and participate in society and be happy.” If you’d like to have Dr. Kilgore work with your child, contact Great Strides at (904) 886-3228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Jon Edenfield Earns University of St. Augustine’s Health Sciences 20th Anniversary Occupational Therapy Professional Program Award
By Christina Swanson
Out of 1,400 occupational therapy graduates from the University of St. Augustine for Health Science’s (USAHS) Occupational Therapy (OT) Program — 20 years’ worth — one graduate stood out from all the rest. DR. JON EDENFIELD OTD, OTR/L, founder and director of Great Strides Rehabilitation Center in Mandarin, was presented with the 20th Anniversary Occupational Therapy Professional Award from the university’s Board of Directors for his outstanding commitment to the occupational therapy profession in leadership, advocacy, service, scholarship, mentorship and innovation.
Edenfield and his family were flown out to Carlsbad, CA, to receive this one-time award in celebration of the 20th anniversary of occupational therapy at the university, and the 100th anniversary of occupational therapy as a profession.
After earning his undergraduate degree in OT at the University of Florida, Edenfield attended and completed his masters at USAHS when the OT program was in its infancy, graduating in 2000 where he was presented with the outstanding OT student award. After working with special needs children he saw that most require multiple types of therapies with specialists typically at different locations. That’s when Edenfield created Great Strides — a comprehensive rehabilitation center for children – providing unique interdisciplinary teams of specialists at one rehab and special education facility so parents can meet their child’s varied needs in one location. He also earned his doctorate from USAHS, researching his capstone project for three years, titled “Pilot Study: The physiological effects of animal assisted therapy on children with autism spectrum disorder.”
This pilot study was based on working with Nantuckett, after he completed the year-long process of acquiring and learning how to work with a service dog. “We came to the conclusion that having children interact with the dog before their sessions, whether therapy or educational, meant they would be more alert and receptive to learning and communicate and behave better,” said Edenfield.
In only 13 years, Great Strides has grown from a one-room space to a 19,000 square foot new building employing 85 specialists and assistants, helping children with disabilities from birth to 21-years-old. Great Strides also has after-school programs with speech, behavior and music therapies, with specialists also working with medically fragile daycares and schools.
“My biggest triumph is to take a family that has just found out that their child has been diagnosed with a disability, and give them a road map of help so they know that it is going to be OK,” said Edenfield. “Their life may be different than their original paradigm but they and their child are still going to have a good life.”
As Edenfield approached the podium, the USAHS presenter praised him for “upholding the legacy of the university with his innovative and broad range of programs helping special needs children.” The award ceremony also honored exceptional USAHS faculty.
Helping Children be Better People is Promoted by Relationship Between Pak’s Karate Academy of Mandarin and Great Strides Rehabilitation
By Christina Swanson
Chelsea loves practicing the high block, Cole likes saying “Kiai” (kee-yah) and Will takes a shine to kicking. Sounds like a typical elementary-school-aged kids’ response to beginning karate classes except these are children with special needs and the classes are just one way their rehabilitative school goes beyond the norm in expanding their daily learning process.
Great Strides Rehabilitation has been providing speech, physical and occupational therapy services for Northeast Florida for more than a decade with their main clinic, school and outpatient therapy support. Although they are located in Mandarin as part of the Jacksonville Pediatric Enrichment Center, their therapists also help children with disabilities at schools and medically fragile day care centers. Also located within this large Mandarin business complex on San Jose Boulevard is Pak’s Karate Academy of Mandarin, a mainstay in this area for 31 years.
Dr. Jon Edenfield, OTD, OTR/L, founder and executive director of Great Strides, wants his students to engage in a variety of leisure activities to help with their motor and social skills in a fun way. “Many special needs children have a hard time participating in sports teams or other typical activities such as riding a bike, and when they do, it can be a negative experience causing them to become self-conscious of their own behaviors which can lead to poor self-esteem,” said Edenfield.
When the students walk to the play ground each school day, they actually pass the Pak’s Academy building. One day about six months ago, when one of Pak’s owners, Master Christopher Tersak, saw the children, he approached the therapists with the group and struck up the idea of having the kids participate in some basic karate classes at no charge.
Edenfield already knew the benefits of karate for special needs children, especially those in the autism spectrum, in developing better balance, motor coordination, focus on a task, and improved eye contact and social skills. Tersak saw this as an opportunity to give back to the community and fulfill their core mission to extend the benefits of karate to all people, especially those with challenges and behavior issues.
“It’s all about form, discipline and focus rather than the physically aspect of fighting,” said Tersak. “Behavior is a huge part of advancing in karate…how they stand in line, address their instructors and interact with other students.”
“It’s inspiring to see how the instruction builds confidence to speak and perform in front of people which is one of life’s greatest fears even in adults,” explained Tersak. You see when the little ones first come here they are still holding onto mom’s leg; after three months they are standing in front of 300 people performing for their first belt.”
Working with the Great Strides’ students also challenges and grows Pak’s teachers to become more patient and understanding in their instruction methods. They are starting to receive feedback from the kids’ therapists and parents that the classes are showing a positive impact on the students’ everyday lives. “That is our payment because that is why we do it,” said Tersak.
Pak’s Academy is known for being family oriented where about 20 percent of the parents join their kids after they witness how beneficial learning the discipline of karate can be. “The greatest thing is to watch a father practicing moves with his child,” said Tersak. “We are in the business of developing community leaders in school and life, not just black belts. “ (The Pak’s Karate Academy of Mandarin — named after the grand master founder who has 150 schools world-wide and independently owned — was bought by two brothers who learned and have taught there for 20 years, Master Christopher and Master Nicholas Tersak, along with wife Angela Tersak.)
Recently, Edenfield attended his students’ first ceremony at Pak’s Academy, watching six to eight year olds pay strict attention to instructions and beam with pride after breaking their first boards. “It’s obvious the children are really into it and their behavior and focus improvements are extending into other crucial communication areas as shared by their parents,” said Edenfield.
For more information about Pak’s of Mandarin call 262-8200 or go to paksmandarin.com; to reach Great Strides Rehab call 886-3228 or visit greatstridesrehab.com.
I spoke with Joni Hughes who is recent owner of a new PPEC in town “Jumpstart Pediatrics”. PPEC stands for Prescribed Pediatric Extended Care and is a daycare option for medically fragile children who would not be appropriate for typical daycare due to medical issues. In the past, parents working or in school often kept medically fragile children home with round the clock nursing care. Therapy was provided in outpatient locations or through Early Steps around the parent’s schedule. Now more parents are learning about PPECs as an option for their child, and there are many more PPEC choices in Jacksonville. PPECs are staffed by skilled nurses who medically care for the children. Therapy is provided “in house” and includes PT, OT and ST as well as vision and hospital homebound schooling options. This cuts down on multiple additional appointments for the parents during the week and often fits their school/ work schedule better. Transportation is provided if needed, with buses or vans picking up the children in the morning and transporting them home. Medical personnel accompany the children on the bus rides to ensure their safety. Great Strides began staffing therapists at PPECs about 10 years ago, and has steadily grown with these companies. Joni responded to several questions about her experiences in this medical business.
What is your background medically?
“30 years of nursing, 20 of that in pediatrics, and most in critical care or home health. I have been involved in PPECs for 15 years.”
How did you decide to open a PPEC?
“I decided to open one because I wanted to produce a program that had more supportive services for the parents and more developmental and academic services for children. “I wanted a program that would offer children a variety of developmental options. People tend to forget that children who are medically complex can progress and should be offered the maximum amount of developmental opportunities available.”
How long has Jumpstart been open and how many children can it serve?
“It’s been open since December of 2016 and we are can service 50 children here in the center. We are growing very quickly and we happy with how the community has received the center and services we provide.”
What services does GSR provide for your PPEC?
“Physical, occupational and speech therapy. When available, Jon has also sent a music therapist regularly which the children love and respond to significantly.”
How long have you been contracting with Jon Edenfield and GSR?
“I’ve worked with Jon for over 10 years providing therapeutic services to children in PPECs.”
What were you specifically wanting to do with Jumpstart to “set it apart?”
“I wanted it to be a bright, airy and kid friendly environment that would stimulate the children’s growth and development as well as provide for their medical needs. I wanted it to be a place where parents felt comfortable leaving their children for the day.”
What is the mission of your program?
“At JumpStart Pediatrics, we strive to provide compassionate, quality care in a professional, caring and friendly environment. Our goal is to partner with your family to ensure the highest level of physical, developmental and social growth your child can possible attain. We are committed to help make a difference in your child’s overall health and well-being as we also strive to make a difference in the community we serve.”
Tell me about your family, and what you like to do in your spare time.
“I’ve been married for 30 years, have 4 children and 4 beautiful grandchildren. Family is very important to me.
I like spending time with my husband, children and grandchildren, reading, volunteering in the community, and going to the beach.”
A vocational training program for older Great Stride students is currently being developed with several fine students currently taking part. Actually started last summer during summer camp with our older clients, Great Strides was looking to review clients’ skills, abilities, and interests during performing three types of jobs and their requirements which included:
Maintenance at Westminster.
The summer program helped guide the outline for our current vocational program as we flesh-out the details. Coordinated by Lauren Cricchio B.S., RBT, GS Associate Lead Therapist, she explains the purpose of the program,
“The program is not just to teach a certain job skill until proficiency has been met but also focuses on a comprehensive package for each individual on what skills are needed to be successful in a community job – self help, social skills, self advocacy, safety and time management.” After those stages have been taught and met the student will work on specific job areas that interest each individual. A win-win for student and partnering companies.
Great Strides appreciates Westminster Woods on Julington Creek, and Mama Fu’s on San Jose having graciously allowed Great Strides to work with them on potential future employment and great on-the-job training for our students.
We are always looking for new opportunities to provide our clients with many different employment choices throughout the community. If a company is interested in partnering with us, they should call the main office at 886-3228.