Posts tagged autism
Lego Club: Sports

We had several families join us back in June for Lego Club: Sports at MVNU! Our next date is 8/7, 4:30-6:00 at MVNU again! We hope everyone can join us as we create fun musical Lego masterpieces!

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: or contact Brenda Coffman, Early Intervention Director at

Harmony Playground: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony

On April 25, 2019 the Knox County Chamber of Commerce held the Ribbon Cutting Ceremony for Harmony Playground, the new fully inclusive playground in Mount Vernon. Harmony Playground has been a wonderful collaborative project with the Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Crossfit 1808, the Knox County Health Department Creating Healthy Communities and many other wonderful team members that brought together this amazing playground for all families in Knox County and beyond.

Carol Grubaugh, with the Chamber of Commerce led the ceremony and we heard wonderful remarks from Katie Fiorilli, Crossfit 1808 & Caroline’s Classic; Tami Ruhl, Knox County Health Department Creating Healthy Communities; Steve Oster, Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities; and Mayor Dick Mavis, City of Mount Vernon. Thank you to Jamie and Levi Sanders for cutting the ribbon!

Thank you to everyone who helped make this project a reality, and thank you to everyone who came out to the ribbon cutting ceremony!

harmony playground ribbon-19.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-20.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-21.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-22.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-23.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-24.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-25.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-26.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-36.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-39.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-46.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-47.JPG
harmony playground ribbon-54.JPG

Generous donors who made this project a reality are:

Knox County Board of Developmental Disabilities

The Ariel Foundation

Diversified Products & Services

Richard & Arline Landers Foundation

Crossfit 1808 Caroline’s Classic

United Way of Knox County

Kiwanis Club of Mount Vernon

The Energy Cooperative Operation Round Up Foundation, Inc.

The Ramser Family

Licking/Knox Goodwill Industries, Inc.

Knox County Health Department Creating Healthy Communities

Women United

First-Knox National Bank, Division of Park National Bank

Elks Care, Elks Share - Mount Vernon Elks #140

Celestine Watkins

Siemens Energy Systems, Inc.

Mount Vernon Rotary Foundation

City of Mount Vernon

Knox County Foundation

Foundation Parks Conservancy

Concepts in Community Living, Inc.

Margo de Camp

Steve Oster

Kim & Pam Rose

Ian & Charlotte Watson

Creative Foundations, Inc.

Gordy & Fran Yance

Delta Kappa Gamma of Knox County

Knox Community Hospital

Chip & Katie Wilson

Marc & Jen Odenweller

Geotechnical Consultants, Inc.

The Marlow Family

Deb Romas & Associates

Dr. Robert & Patricia Ronk

Riverside Recovery Services - Where Recovery Brings Hope

Amy Albery

Elena N. Brechler

Craig Black - Tricia Moore - Andrew & Anna Breen

Team “Neverquit” - AFC

Adam Daniels - Ben Durbin - Natalee Johnson - Trista Butler

Brock M. Evans

Lara K. Farmer

Built By Unity

Hanna Ford

Matthew Gibson

The Hickman Family

John & Kristin Hofferberth

Matthew Kelling

Always Forward CrossFit

Tara Lamb

Alex Lambert

Melissa Leonard

Ron & Natalie Lucas & Family

Dan & Rebekah Mullins

Emily Nussbaum

Alicia Olson

Evan Palmer

Kathy Patton

Chad & Tami Ruhl

Holden Richards

The Ruffner Family

In Memory of Dorothy “Dottie” Marchal

Megan West

Neal Bell - Justin Satin - Loriann Fuhrer - Kris Whiting

Nichole Williams

“N8” Woodford

Dick & Peggy Mavis

Flappers Bar & Grille - Norm & Erron Porter - Steve Oster

Benjamin Peter Ollis

Lucy Peterson

Barbara Jordan


Easterseals Central & Southeast Ohio

ViaQuest, Inc.

Gantt Homes Inc. & The HIVE

Teresa Bemiller

Joe & Miranda Conkle

Nick & Katie Fiorilli

Rhonda & Chuck Gherman

Steve & Kathy Greenich

Mike & Karen Hagans

Jaclynn Mahle

Joe & Sally Nelson

Donald & Nancy Omahan

Friends of Kelly Shoemaker

In Memory of Ashton Cordray

Moms of Mount Vernon Giving Back

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!

A_first backpacking_web.jpg

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.

B_J baby outdoors_WEB.jpg

 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.

C_A outside_Chaco Canyon_WEB.jpg

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!

D_Starting Signpost_WEB.jpg

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!

E_A Relaxing in woods_WEB.jpg

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!)



Jill (& Anna)

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

Striving for Sensory Inclusion
ICAN2 Akron Zoo-2.jpg

ICAN2 (Involvement, Community, Advocacy and Networking Too) is a group of Self-Advocates from Knox County who are dedicated to promoting inclusion and improving accessibility for all.  Last year they learned about the Akron Zoo and how they were the second zoo in the United States to create a Sensory Inclusive environment for all patrons that come to their zoo.  Akron Zoo partnered with KultureCity to improve their ability to assist and accommodate guests with sensory processing needs. Their objective is to provide an inclusive and seamless experience for ALL guests regardless of age and ability including those with sensory processing needs. 

In April 2018 ICAN2 met with Elena Bell, who works with the Akron Zoo so she could help the group understand how they implemented this program into their zoo.  She explained that all of the staff at the zoo are trained in recognizing what a "melt down" looks like and understanding what sensory sensitive means, what it can look like and the different needs people may have.  They provide Sensory Bags at no cost to anyone who comes to the zoo.  The bags include noise cancelling headphones, fidget toys, sunglasses and a cue card to help them express their wants and needs.  There are guest comfort stations that individuals or families can use to help calm down and get away from the crowds.  There are quiet zones and headphone zones throughout the entire zoo.  On Akron Zoo's website, they have a Social Story that people can view prior to coming so they know what to expect before they arrive.

In June the self advocates were able to go to the Akron Zoo to see the new program!  Many people noticed how easy it was to find the "headphone zones" and "quiet zones" so they knew what was coming.  They also appreciated the fidget toys so they could have something to occupy their hands while waiting to view an exhibit.

ICAN2 is hoping that the Columbus Zoo will take note of this wonderful program and implement it in their zoo!  If you would like to see this become a reality  for Columbus, Eleana Bell recommended that patrons should write down the different things Akron Zoo does on the Columbus Zoo's comment cards when you visit and give them Elena's contact information:

Elena Bell Marketing & Group Sales Manager, email:, Phone: 330-375-2550, ext. 7251