In the Spotlight – Emily

When people think about education, they might think about children sitting in desks being taught reading, writing and arithmetic. Merriam-Webster defines the word education as “the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college, or university.” However, this definition is not all encompassing: not all education is done in a typical classroom setting.

One young lady, Emily, comes to UCP of Greater Cleveland’s headquarters every Monday through Thursday for seven hours a day during the school year. UCP is Emily’s therapeutic learning environment – where she learns how to communicate with an assistive communication device, how to walk up and down stairs, how to take care of herself and how to prepare for a future job. UCP of Greater Cleveland’s therapists are very creative in the services they provide and have extensive experience with the intensive therapy approach.

Emily’s team includes a speech language pathologist, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, an Assistive Technology Professional with a background in Special Education and two dedicated therapy aides. Emily always has at least one therapist or aide working with her, if not more. Although the therapists have their own specializations, they all work together and are aware of one another’s goals so that they can cross train and make sure the program is seamless. For example, Emily is learning how to use an iPad as a communication device. This would normally be looked at as a tool for speech/ language therapy, but all of Emily’s therapists use this tool with her.

The Day Treatment Program uses an individualized curriculum focusing on functional skill development, adaptive behavior, and visual, gross and fine motor skills. Emily’s therapists make sure all of her goals move flawlessly into one another. For example, one of Emily’s tasks is learning how to look at an advertisement and pick out what she needs to buy at the store for the week, such as peanut butter and Hershey’s Kisses to make cookies. Once she finds the items she wants to buy, she and one of her therapists will walk to the store to purchase them. On Thursday Emily learns how to cook the chosen food for that week. She then walks around with her communication device offering cookies to people, which also helps her work on her social skills.

Emily has plenty of opportunities for socialization at UCP of Greater Cleveland. She is able to interact with other children receiving therapy services, as well as UCP of Greater Cleveland’s administrative staff who do not have the privilege of working with clients on a regular basis. Not only does this benefit Emily, but it reinforces the staff’s connection to the agency’s mission and the wonderful clients we serve. Emily is also able to practice the skills she learns in environments outside of UCP. She and one of her therapists take field trips to places nearby such as the post office, the drug store and a local farmers market in the warmer months.

The therapists also send Emily home with homework every day, such as learning new vocabulary on her iPad and some type of literacy work. Although Emily cannot read, she is enjoying books for the first time in her life. She used to get very frustrated when her parents would pull out a book, but now she enjoys being read to and looking at the pictures.

Emily needs to continue to develop functional skills that she can use in the community and at home. She is learning these skills in a controlled and predictable environment so that she can eventually generalize the concept. Generalization does not come easily to Emily and must be done systematically.

All programming is tailored to a child’s needs with an individualized treatment plan. When Emily was in a typical school environment, she was so overwhelmed and over stimulated that she would disengage and shut down. If a child is not engaged, then the child is not learning. UCP of Greater Cleveland created the kind of environment Emily needs to thrive, such as quiet rooms and blank walls with no visual distractions. There is also an extensive collection of therapy supports and assistive technology, such as iPads, communication devices, adaptive chairs, a therapy swimming pool, computer touch screens, therapeutic listening program and several other therapy exercise equipment.

Some children require more attention than a typical school can give. UCP of Greater Cleveland is a niche care provider for children, like Emily, with multiple, severe and rare disabilities. The agency works cooperatively with the school districts and the child’s family to do what is best for the child. Options may include staff training within the school district, temporary placement combined with staff training and a transition plan, or long term placement.

Participation in the Day Treatment Program is very limited to ensure quality and individualized attention. The UCP team is in the process of expanding the program in a way that will support such high standards.

UCP of Greater Cleveland’s mission is to empower children and adults with disabilities to advance their independence, productivity and inclusion in the community. The agency recognizes that this does not just happen – it takes a great deal of hard work and dedication by the client, the client’s family and the team of therapists. But clients like Emily prove that great strides can be made when everyone works towards the child’s individualized goals.

For more information on the Day Treatment Program, please contact Intesar Taye, Director of Children’s Services, at 216.791.8363 ext. 1247 or itaye@ucpcleveland.org.

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