Posts in Stories
The Power of PLAY

As Jacob hops from one piece of equipment to another at Harmony Playground, it can be hard to imagine that just a short time ago he was needing a lot of assistance navigating stairs, uneven surfaces and new surroundings.

Jacob and his family have been utilizing the PLAY Project through Early Intervention and Help Me Grow at Knox DD.  The PLAY Project is an autism intervention program that helps young children who are suspected to have autism or have an autism diagnosis reach their full potential through play.  The PLAY consultants meet the families and children where they are developmentally and help them learn how to interact with each other in meaningful ways.  The PLAY Project helps coach the families and care givers to learn how to have playful interactions with their child.  Parents implement different techniques through the week and meet with the PLAY consultants regularly to gauge what is working and not working to help build the confidence and relationships in the home. When you do what the child likes to do, the child will love being with you, interacting with you and building you relationships stronger.

Jacob and his family have been working with our PLAY consultant Kae and they have seen extraordinary progress from Jacob as he learns how to better navigate his world. Jacobs’s mom Amy stated that she has learned so much about interacting with him in a way that is beneficial for him and meets him where he is developmentally. While going through this program as a family, they have observed that he has started engaging in his surroundings more and he has noticed more of what’s happening around him rather than just living in his own little bubble.  While we were at Harmony Playground there was a tractor mowing grass, and he noticed it and was fascinated watching it!  This is something he wouldn’t have noticed before. 

Jacob was building his confidence throughout the PLAY session at the playground.  He started his visit with crawling around on the different pieces of equipment to learn how they all worked and by the end of our visit he was running, navigating the equipment like a pro and he dared to get onto the “Drop Zone!”

If you are interested in learning more about the PLAY project, please visit their website at: https://www.playproject.org/statewide-p-l-y-training-ohio/ or contact Brenda Coffman, Early Intervention Director at bcoffman@knoxdd.com

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Rx: Nature

April is Autism Awareness Month. We appreciate the opportunity to share our story with you. Our lives have been changed for the better once we discovered the healing power of spending regular time in Nature!

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My name is Jill. I have enjoyed being a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama of a large family. Even as a child, I was frequently outdoors, soaking up sunshine, noticing beauty, and finding an inner peace. Once we had a family, I often packed the kids into the car and escaped to a playground or a park or into the woods for an hour here or there. Like many families, our kids have had a variety of challenges. Most of them are now launched into successful adulthood. They are scattered around the country, pursuing lives they enjoy.

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 Life has held extra joys and greater challenges with our youngest daughter. Anna has an alphabet soup of diagnoses, including severe anxiety and autism. Her energy, curiosity, creativity, and imagination are amazing! On the opposite side, her mood swings, crippling anxiety, hyper-focus and insatiable need for social contact (even to the point of danger) are overwhelming…for all of us! Meds, therapy, and the freedoms of homeschooling help, but life has still been chaotic. (Many of you know this roller-coaster. Please tell me you too have times you just wish you could get off the merry-go-round and get out of the amusement park…)

Like me, Anna craves being outdoors. Even as a toddler, she spent hours and hours playing in the backyard no matter how bad the weather seemed to be. For the few middle-school years she was in a public school, we won an accommodation in her IEP that when she was overwhelmed, a counselor or an aide would walk outside with her for a few minutes to help her calm down again. We quickly realized the freedom to learn while being outside is a huge benefit of homeschooling.

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Our family reached a pivot point a few years ago. My wonderful hubby saw that I was burned out. He suggested I take a month to wander the country by myself, camping along the way. I immediately responded that I wanted to buy backpacking gear and go on “the trail.” Realizing he couldn’t juggle Anna’s needs plus a full-time job and that we had no one else to help Anna for that long period of time, we agreed that she would need to come with me on my new adventure.

 

In fall of 2015, when Anna was just 13 years old, she and I haunted the outdoors store, gathered the necessary gear, and planned our adventure. Hubby drove us to Maryland, and we said our good-byes. Anna and I took our first steps on the Appalachian Trail and kept walking in the woods for the next 6+ weeks!

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Backpacking was a radical change from suburban or small-town living! We carried everything we needed on our backs. We walked 5-10 miles of dirt trail each day, travelling up and down mountain after mountain. We heated water with a tiny stove and ate rehydrated rice and tuna meals each night. We slept in 3-sided lean-to shelters or in our tent and woke up the next day to do the same all over again. We filtered water from streams to drink, and only showered every 3-5 days when we got to a town for resupply. It was hard. It was crazy. And we LOVED it!

 

Eventually, I recognized that there was an extra benefit of extended time in the woods. At home it was typical for Anna to have 2-3 major meltdowns each week. However, after weeks of living outdoors, I realized Anna had only had one partial anxiety attack and no mood-swings. In addition to being immersed in nature, while we were on the trail, Anna was an equal with all the other hikers. She was fully competent with no “disabilities” holding her back. Social anxiety and dangerous lack of personal-safety were no longer problems to be dealt with. We discovered Rx: Nature was a miraculous “cure” for Anna’s struggles!

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In the past 3.5 years, Anna and I have returned to the Appalachian Trail again and again. At this point, we are proud to have walked 500 miles in the back woods and in the mountains! (And we have not yet reached the 25% point of completing the entire AT which runs from Georgia to Maine. Isn’t that CRAZY?!) We both relish the peace and the beauty of spending extended time in nature.

 

After returning from our first backpacking adventure, I did further reading. I discovered there is extensive scientific research validating the health benefits of Nature. Many folks find that when they spend regular time outdoors, their moods are better regulated, and they have far fewer anxiety meltdowns. In addition, Rx: Nature helps improve mental clarity and focus, increases immune system responsiveness, and lowers generalized stress. (Woohoo! We found a genuinely effective way to get off the “roller-coaster” for youngest daughter. It’s a relief to find something that actually helps…and better yet is enjoyable for all of us!)

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Love,

Jill (& Anna)


If you want to follow along with Anna & Jill’s adventures, feel free to go to their website:

http://thebigepic.com/

Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month Luncheon 2019

As March comes to a close, it’s so wonderful to take some time to reflect on how amazing Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month is. We have been honored to be able to speak to Ohio State Legislators, have a fun evening dancing the night away, had a few Sensory Sensitive Movie showings, two Lego Club events, hosted our annual coloring and essay contest with all public schools in Knox County, and we had an amazing luncheon where we were able to honor so many great community leaders who make Knox County so amazing to live, work and thrive in.

At our DD Month Luncheon we discussed how technology can assist people who have developmental disabilities be more independent and have fuller lives. We were also able to honor 6 different people/groups who make Knox County so amazing.

Local Hero Award: Terri Pribonic, New Hope Industries

Employer Award: Justin Newell, Kenyon College Athletics

Community Partner Award: Public Library of Knox County and Mount Vernon

Community Partner Award: Premiere Theatre 7

Dedication Award: Tiffany Cagnon, Midwest Community

Individual Spotlight Award: Jocelyn Gilardi

Thank you for making Knox County so great!

It takes Heart

The Knox County Chamber of Commerce holds their Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony each January. The Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities was nominated for and received the Heart Award, which honors a Chamber member that “achieves and maintains architectural design that compliments our community.” The All-Inclusive Playground that has been built at Memorial Park has been a massive project that broke ground in September and was completed in December of 2018. This playground will be a wonderful place for all families to come together to play and make wonderful memories!

Thank you, Knox County for helping us make our community a wonderful place to live, work and play!

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It's a Wonderful Life [Orange Barrel Productions]
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Knox County is an amazing place to live. We have such great supports, opportunities and a wonderful community of people. Orange Barrel Productions has been so inclusive to some people that are in our program and have included them in this year’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” performance.

You can catch Joe, Devine, Paul and David give exemplary performances at any of their upcoming shows. The show is scheduled for November 8, 9, 10, 15, 16 & 17. All shows begin at 7PM and tickets are $10.

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Katie - Baker's IGA
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Katie works at Baker’s IGA in Mount Vernon. She started her employment career through the Summer Youth Work Experience where she toured many different places of employment— Baker’s was by far her favorite! After she graduated from high school she started working with them two days a week. She loves working hard so she can save her money to go to concerts! Each day she starts with restocking the ice cream section, then makes her way through the store until all the departments are fully stocked and clean!

Carina - Dairy Queen

Carina has always had a dream of working in the community, talking to new people and earning her own money. Since July she has been working at Dairy Queen in Mount Vernon. She enjoys delivering food and ice cream to all the different customers, busing tables, cleaning the restaurant and learning new skills. She loves talking to all of the customers that come through and she ensures they have a wonderful experience at their location!

It makes me proud that I can be on my own!
— Carina G.
Luke - AVI Food Systems

Luke started his employment journey by doing Summer Youth Work Experience at various places around Knox County. His favorite place to work was AVI Food Systems at Kenyon College. He recalls that the first time he worked there he ate so much food he almost made himself sick! He’s been employed there for a little over a year and really enjoys working in the bakery department. He enjoys helping students fill up their plates, cleaning, sweeping, mopping and ensuring the departments are clean. He has great supports from his co-workers, managers and job coach.

I like getting paid and trying to do different things
— Luke F.
David - living with a new family

David spent many years of his life living at Mount Vernon Developmental Center.  He grew close to many of his peers, staff and administration-- who wouldn't love his ornery antics and clever wit?!  He was especially close with one of his TPW's- Ethel.  After Ethel retired from MVDC she continued visiting with David, taking him out to eat and church on Sundays.  She couldn't stand the thought of not having him in her life.  She contacted Caregiver Homes and they helped her and her husband become a Shared Living site.  David has been living with them in their home and they can't imagine life any other way!