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Teachers with Technology - Bringing Communication Tools to Students with Autism

Communication devices are a wonderful tool in our Hammitt Autism programs. For several students who are non-verbal or minimally-verbal, these programmed-touch devices give them a voice and connection to the outside world. 

In one of our Hammitt classrooms, Teacher Therapist Linda Ladage recently shared how an Augmentative and Alternative Communication device (ACC) helps her student 'Teddy' share important information with his classmates -- the lunch menu!  Linda states "It is amazing how kids in this generation quickly learn how to find things in their devices. I simply added a slide in my Smartboard lesson that asks 'Hey Teddy, what's for lunch today?'" She reads the items from the paper menu to Teddy, and then helps him find the right buttons on his 'talker'. Speech Language Pathologist Leslie Garthaus states "Teddy seems to LOVE using the device to communicate."

Linda and Leslie continually look for ways to create just the right opportunity for non-verbal students at The Baby Fold to participate in whole class activities. Linda says "Leslie had another idea just today for all of the non-verbal students....the Pledge of Alligiance." Leslie is now working on programming a 3-button sentence into each of their devices. Another lesson that has particular meaning for Linda, is helping her students learn to use the phrase 'I love you'. She says, "Almost every day I practice with them," she tells the students  "when Mom and Dad say I love you,  you can say...and then we find 'I love you' in the device. I hope someday a parent says this to their child and gets to 'hear' their child say it back to them for the first time." 

Dr. Rhonda Howard's Passion for Students

Dr. Rhonda Howard, VP of Academic Services at The Baby Fold lights up when she talks about her work with our Hammitt School students. “I was driven to this work; it’s a calling.” When she describes her experiences being a social worker in inner city schools, to a principal who opened an alternative high school, her passion for students and families who need special care and guidance is obvious. “I want to work with a team who makes the biggest impact possible,” she states emphatically, and that desire and The Baby Fold is a perfect fit.”

Believing the expert staff at Hammitt Schools are “the best, bar none.”, Dr. Howard values the School's freedom to create spaces and programs that meet the individual needs of kids and families is really important to Rhonda. She is particularly “overjoyed” with the renovation that is taking place in our building on Oglesby Ave. Space matters to our students. Rhonda took a moment and thought about her next comment. “To provide a junior-senior high school that is tailored to our students’ needs sends a message that those kids who feel too often that they are left over or left out are worthy of this great building, staff, and programs.”

Dr. Howard beams when she talks about the joy that's felt when a child can receive true acceptance and learn to grow academically and emotionally. Like Brandon who reluctantly came to Hammitt High.  At 15 years old, he had 50 years’ worth of anger in him. But the teachers and therapists at The Baby Fold went to work buidling trusting relationships with him and he began to improve. “You don’t have to yell to get what you need,” advised Rhonda. This same wisdom was shared with Brandon’s dad, Adam. As the family worked with the Hammitt team, both father and son learned to calmly think before reacting to stressful situations. Something as simple as sending a note home with Brandon each day with a positive message on it helped them start their evening together from a hopeful place. Today Brandon and his dad enjoy a closer relationship. Adam is learning to connect with his son while still holding him accountable for his behavior. “Happy endings like this are common here, reports Dr. Howard. When you take a great team of dedicated teachers and counselors, and give them opportunity to engage the whole family in treatment, big changes happen.”

Monthly Donor Gives from the Heart

Rev. Joy Schlesselman recently took a step of faith and generosity when she “stepped up” to become a monthly donor to the mission of The Baby Fold. A long-time donor, volunteer, and cheerleader of the agency, Joy has been a valuable part of our circle of caring friends. “While the size of a gift will vary from person to person, it all matters to the children and families that receive care from The Baby Fold. I just want to do my part and do it regularly.” The convenience of safe, online giving is important to a lot of people; it’s so easy to have good intentions but not follow through with action. “We all get lots of asks for donations, and The Baby Fold is one of my priorities. Knowing that I am contributing to a ministry that is having such successful outcomes with kids and families makes giving simple. It feels so good to be part of a team of life-changers.” When The Baby Fold has regular givers, it makes planning for the future more strategic and efficient. If you would like to “step up” and join the growing number of monthly online donor, click here.

Dr. Jessica Grunden Brings Skills and Hope to Children and Families

Dr. Jessica Grunden brings skills and hope to children and families.
Jessica is an occupational therapist (OT) who cares for adoptive families at The Baby Fold. Coming from a place of deep compassion for children needing adoption that was first developed on the mission field in China, Jessica has specialized in treating those who have sensory issues that are hindering them from connecting well with others. She explains that sensory processing is simply the way we take in information through our senses- how we interact with the world. “Often children who have experience stress or trauma have a hard time functioning because they have sensory overload. The world is too loud, too bright, too fast.” Some children may need to feel grounded physically so that they can feel calmer emotionally, so weighted blankets or deep pressure massage can be very helpful. Other kids may be under stimulated and may seem lethargic. Those children need to have safe activities at the ready- perhaps a personal trampoline or ball to bounce on. Dr. Gruden is very sensitive to the need to meet each child where they are. “You wouldn’t ask a person who has just had knee replacement to go back to regular activities right away. There is a rehab process that begins at their present level of functioning, and then we go from there. The same is true for children who are dysregulated (always on the edge of emotional meltdown). Jessica is teaching parents how to meet the sensory needs of their children, which in turn builds trust and healthy relationships in the family. It’s important to teach OT techniques to the parents so that they can continue to offer support even when Jessica is not present.
The Baby Fold is fortunate to have Dr. Grunden’s expertise on staff because she is also instructing our teaching staff to use OT at Hammitt Schools. She regularly visits classrooms and observes students who may need a different kind of chair, more regular movement breaks throughout the day, or a shoulder rub when they become anxious.
Occupational therapy has come a long way as a profession, and the children of The Baby Fold are reaping the benefits of sensory support through Jessica, their teachers, and their parents.

We Love our New Satellite Office in Urbana!

Having a new centrally-located work space in Champaign County allows The Baby Fold to efficiently serve MORE children and families in eastern Illinois. Three programs that have extended their reach include:

  • Adoption Preservation - visiting the homes of adoptive families; providing stabilization and guidance so that the entire family experiences felt safety, trust, and love.
  • Intensive Family Support Services - providing care and connections to support in the client’s community so that they can move towards self-sufficiency, healthy relationships, and wellness.
  • Healthy Start - giving moms the personal care and education they desire so that each baby enters a safe, healthy, and loving home.

What an exciting time at The Baby Fold....expanding our services and reaching more children and families than ever before in our 116-year history!