New CPD employee talks about Aggies Elevated, getting that first job

June 15, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of Brenna

Brenna Mantz

Brenna Mantz, a graduate of the Aggies Elevated program at Utah State University, is a new employee at the Center for Persons with Disabilities. In this interview she talks about her AE experience, how she prepared for her first job, and what it’s like working at the CPD. She also gives some advice to other young adults with disabilities who are seeking their own employment.

Q: Tell me about your education with Aggies Elevated. How did it prepare you for your first job?

I was taught to be on my own. I also learned skills that helped me in the work field and other areas. I learned how time management works and how improve my social skills. I also took some classes that would help me in the career I am going into. How Aggies Elevated prepared me for my job is by showing me how to become successful in it. Also it showed what I can do to continue being successful in my job.

Q: Tell me about the internship experience you had before coming to the CPD. Where did you work? What did you learn there?

I did my internship at Terrace Grove Assisted Living. I learned how to build up my office skills and I also learned how interact with other people by building up my social skills. I also learned how the company worked. I learned how to get out of my comfort zone and learn new things. I would help coordinate activities for the residents. I also grew to love the people who worked there and also the residents who live there. They were super kind to me.

Q: What made you want to work at the CPD?

I heard a lot of good things about it. I heard that the people who worked there were down to earth and really nice. They also had a job opening that I was interested in, to work as an office worker. I thought to myself, this could be my dream job, working for Utah State. I got excited when I heard about this job and I felt like this could be a good fit for me.

Q: How do you feel about working there?

 I really enjoy working for the CPD. I’m impressed how people who work at the CPD care about others. I feel like this is a positive atmosphere to work in. I feel like learning new things at the CPD is a great experience for me. I also use my time to get all tasks completed that I have been assigned. I enjoy coming to work every day and seeing my coworkers have a positive attitude. I also enjoy doing office work, like organizing things.

 

What advice would you give other young adults with disabilities who are seeking their own first jobs?

Looking for a first job is hard. So I say continue looking for work and do not give up. Also, when they have a job, it takes a lot of time and effort to become successful in that job. It is super important to stay focused and get a lot of things done. I would also say that people with disabilities who are looking for work should know certain ways how to impress the employer. They also want to build important skills on how to become successful in their first job.

Welcome, Brenna!

Run, Walk and Roll helps children learn and play

June 2, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of Chase playing with a toy.

Chase activates a toy from his new, specialized chair.

Most people don’t remember when they started to understand cause and effect. They flip a switch, the lights turn on—they take it for granted. However, for some children, it’s harder to make that connection (no pun intended).

This month, be assured that your actions supporting the Run, Walk and Roll on June 24 can have definite, happy effects on the families of youngsters with disabilities. You can learn more about that below–but first, meet Chase Reed.

He is two and a half years old, has limited vision, and uses cochlear implants. His dexterity is limited, and until recently he spent a lot of time on his back on the floor. For him it was literally hard to see what toys were for, let alone work them and find out what they do.

The Run, Walk and Roll event is for children like Chase. Last year’s proceeds went toward equipment like the specialized Tumble Form chair that helps Chase sit up and interact with his family. It paid for adapted switch toys that Chase and other children can operate. These devices make a difference for the Reed family and other families in Northern Utah.

This year, the Center for Persons with Disabilities’ Up to 3 program is hosting a repeat of the event to provide more devices to more families. (Its theme: Everybody is a superhero!) Technology, both high- and low-tech, can make a real difference for youngsters with disabilities, but it’s often expensive. Tumble Forms can cost hundreds of dollars, but they provide much better support than a car seat, the sitting angle can be adjusted, and in one, children who have trouble sitting on their own are in a much better position to use their hands. Those benefits add up to a big boost in development.

“Chase has no trunk support,” said Chase’s mother, Maria. “He loves being in the chair. He likes to sit up.”

Up to 3’s Amy Henningsen added a custom-made tray so he could play with toys, and that’s where Chase’s younger brother, Jordan, brings things to show him. Before, Maria said, if she wanted to introduce a book or toy to Chase, she needed to hold him in one hand and the toy in the other. The Tumble Form makes that interaction easier, and it’s getting results. Chase used to ignore toys, but he’s paying more attention to them now, and learning that when he presses a button, the dog barks.

Understanding cause and effect lays the groundwork for more development. It helps children learn that their actions can make things happen; push a switch and a toy dog barks; ask for a drink of water and Mom brings one over.

“You can see how something like that plays a part in communication,” said Marla Nef, the Up to 3 coordinator. In working with children, she has seen the moment when children realize that when they do something, they get something back. “You can see when that light turns on. It’s a powerful concept.”

This year’s Run, Walk and Roll is on Saturday, June 24 at Elk Ridge Park, and it features a 10K, 5K and one-mile walk, plus fun family activities. To find out more, visit the Up to 3 website and Facebook event page. Come dressed as your favorite superhero or rock star!

 

Aggies Elevated graduate reflects on living away from home for the first time

May 24, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon

Photo of Riley and friend

Riley, left, pauses to chat in the Distance Ed building on the Utah State University campus.

It’s summer–the time that college-bound students save money, collect household furnishings and wonder what life will be like away from home.

Fortunately, they can learn from the experience of others, including Riley Cochran, an Aggies Elevated graduate who was one of the first to attend the inclusive on-campus higher education program at Utah State University*.

“Having all those roommates was fun,” he wrote in an article for Think College, a national organization dedicated to improving higher education options for people with intellectual disabilities. “We liked the same kind of things… I never had problems with the roommates because I have disabilities. If anything, they were willing to help out because I have a disability.”

Read the whole article in the Think College newsletter. #AggiesElevated #ClimbHigher

*Aggies Elevated is a program of the Special Education and Rehabilitation department at Utah State University.

10 things to know about people with Fibromyalgia on International Chronic Immunological and Neurological Diseases Awareness Day*

May 12, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon

 

Photo of Storee, her husband and dog.

Storee Powell (right) with her husband Jim and dog, Chewpy.

By Storee Powell

It started at least 5 years ago with bouts of intense body fatigue and weakness. It continued to progress into bouts of hideous pain. I’d suddenly find myself unable to move after laying on the floor, dropping things constantly, and writhing in pain at night.

After a merry-go-round of doctors, misdiagnoses, and awful medications, I finally learned what was eating me alive on July 6, 2016: Fibromyalgia.

I’ve learned that most people know little about this chronic illness and invisible disability. The most common response is something along the lines of a nebulous idea of being tired. Here are 10 things to know about people with Fibromyalgia to help you support those around with this disease:

  1. The thing about Fibro (as I so refer to it) is that it is all encompassing. It causes sleep disturbances, muscle pain and weakness, joint stiffness, hyperhidrosis, irritable bowel syndrome, headaches, numbness and tingling, tinnitus, environmental sensitivity, balance and dizziness problems, TMJ, anxiety or panic disorders, brain fog, and I’ll stop here before I bore you. Just know that it affects many systems in the body.
  2. It isn’t killing us, but it sure feels like it. Though Fibro isn’t terminal, I regularly have such a high pain and fatigue level that I cannot perform basic daily tasks to take care of myself. My least favorite is not brushing my teeth for two days. Angora sweater is the description that comes to mind….
  3. Fibro is difficult at best to treat (still no cure). Traditional pain medications do little or nothing to help with symptoms, and only three medications are currently approved for Fibro.
  4. We usually don’t ‘look sick’. It is hard to ask for help when you are 29 and know people will question how sick you really are. When you see me, there is a good chance I’m wearing 10 layers of concealer, and it is the first time in a week I’ve left the house.
  5. Ninety percent of sufferers are women, and it often starts in the 20’s or 30’s, and takes an average of 5 years to diagnose.
  6. It is a grab bag. Every day with Fibro is different – I never know which combination of symptoms I’m going to encounter. Some days I’m semi-functional and some days I am not functional at all. And I can’t predict it. Last minute cancellations are something I dread intensely, and I have severe anxiety about making appointments.
  7. I am slow. I’ve had to learn to live life at a different pace than that of a person my age who is healthy. I cannot work the same hours, drive the same distances, do the same physical tasks for longs periods of time, or socialize when I please. Everything I do is very calculated.
  8. I won’t ‘get better’. Fibro is chronic – meaning it is for life for the majority of people who have it. Just because you see me looking relatively human one day does not mean I am better. In fact, I’m probably working through a variety symptoms and I’m just good at hiding it.
  9. I can’t ‘fight it’. Fibro isn’t cancer. I can’t win (i.e. make it go away with treatments). And honestly, I work three times as hard a healthy person to do basic things. All I can do is accept my condition and do my best to live life fully for my abilities.
  10. It really sucks, but life is still good. I’d be lying if I said I don’t have existential breakdowns at 3 a.m. thinking about how I’ll be sick on Christmas, at future family events, in 5 years, in 20 years, forever. But I still find joy in life and those moments mean more now. I love being part of the CPD, owning my home, having a dog, writing, and being married. To all my Fibro and chronic pain/fatigue sufferers out there, I literally feel you and you are not invisible.

 

*If you are wondering just what that mouthful means, it includes Fibromyalgia, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, Multiple Chemical Sensitivities and Gulf War Illness. You can learn more about each at the May 12th international awareness day website.

 

Linda Alsop recognized for impact on Deafblind education

May 11, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of Linda

Linda Alsop, right, poses with her award during her recent trip to Boston.

Linda Alsop has followed her passion, serving the Deafblind community for more than 20 years. The Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Visual Impairments and Deafblindness recently recognized her dedication with the Exemplary Advocate Award.

“It has always felt to me that it was what I was supposed to do and where I was supposed to be,” said the director of Deafblind programs at SKI-HI Institute, which is part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. “These children are very poorly understood, and their needs are very high, and education has not been great for them. We don’t have great outcomes as far as what we see in adult life.”

But Alsop knows it could be better, and those possibilities have kept her motivated through years of program-building, advocacy and better- and worse-budget years. Utah has been the nation’s leader in Deafblind education, thanks to the work of dedicated people at SKI-HI Institute, including Alsop. The organization has developed a curriculum, advocated for change and established certification standards for trained interveners, who serve as interpreters for Deafblind children. SKI-HI has helped people from other states organize and receive training.

“We’ve done a lot of work nationally to make people aware of what interveners are, to help parents understand the need,” Alsop said. “We’ve changed the law in Utah and things are rolling well, but many states are still struggling with this practice. … The story’s not done yet, but it’s come a long ways.”

Alsop has stuck with it because she has seen the difference interveners make. People often assume that Deafblind children also have low cognitive function, because it is so hard for them to express themselves. “There are no test results that evaluate them because they can’t communicate,” she said. “They’re undervalued, they’re underestimated.” And often, they are frustrated and angry.

And yet, with the help of trained interveners, a different picture emerges. Interveners work with Deafblind children in a way similar to Ann Sullivan’s pioneering work with Helen Keller, including one-on-one instruction and tactile signing.  “We see changes in behaviors, we see changes in personality,” Alsop said. “I have amazing stories of what happens with these children. … We have lots of data.”

SKI-HI oversees a website for the Deafblind community called Interveners and Children who are Deafblind. The group also has a Facebook page with videos showing interveners in action.

Alsop received her award in Boston last month.