The CPD’s Employability Clinic: linking adults with disabilities with that first job

September 29, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of Marissa

 Six weeks into her new job, Marissa Bell is still a happy employee. “I’m loving it. … I’m trying to do my best.”

Marissa Bell began working her first job six weeks ago, and she loved it from her first day. “I feel wonderful!” she told her job coach. “Like Wonder Woman!”

She works at a recycling center, where she was hired after attending the Disability Skills Laboratory, part of the Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University. Her family decided to take Marissa there after moving to Logan and talking with a service coordinator from the Division of Services for People with Disabilities. The division recently required supported employment services before new day program services could be added to an individual’s plan.

“That’s how we heard about it [the Disability Skills Laboratory’s Employability Clinic] initially,” said Kim Jensen, Marissa’s mother. “I heard a lot of positive things about Utah State and their work with people with special needs,” she said. “They have all the new data on what helps people with disabilities.”

So Marissa began attending DSL. Vocational Rehabilitation also worked with Marissa, as did Daisha Lopez, the supported employment Coordinator at the Disability Skills Laboratory.

Typically, when the DSL’s Employment Clinic helps people find employment, it starts with meeting the family to find out more about the client’s strengths at home. “Then we meet again with the client and talk to them about different pathways to employment where they could be successful,” Lopez said.

Her advice to families of adults with disabilities who are seeking employment: Support and encourage your family member. “It can be a scary process. Just interviewing for a job alone can be a scary thing,” she said. It’s helpful when families support the job seeker, in addition to the providers.

The DSL’s Employability Clinic guides clients through a process of identifying interests and skills, then working on teaching application and interview techniques. They look at how to build a resume and find an employer to match, Lopez said. “Whether it is an individual with disabilities or not, I think there’s a lot of work… finding the perfect job. I don’t personally believe that it’s necessarily harder for people with disabilities.”

In Marissa’s case, recycling was one of her interests. They contacted an employer and brought her in to explore whether it was something she wanted to do. Sometimes an internship is a good option, but in Marissa’s case the employer wanted to hire her right away.

“I’m loving it,” Marissa said. “I love it because I am sorting papers, cardboard, magazines, all that stuff… I like doing that.” While it means less free time, she said it was a good thing. “I’m trying to do my best. The best I can.”

Visiting researcher links Vitamin D levels to mother & child health

September 25, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon

photo of Dr. Hollis

Dr. Bruce Hollis at a presentation to students and CPD staff at Utah State University

After reviewing and performing multiple clinical studies, Dr. Bruce Hollis argues vitamin D does much more than strengthen bones–and that a failure to understand its role in human health can have serious implications for pregnant and nursing mothers.

The Immunology and Genetic Laboratory at the Center for Persons with Disabilities recently hosted a seminar by Dr. Hollis, Director of Pediatric Nutritional Sciences at the Medical University of South Carolina. He spoke to USU students and CPD employees about his research on vitamin D and serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D, the chemical the vitamin becomes after it is converted in the body. Blood tests can measure the level of this chemical to determine whether a person is deficient in vitamin D. Eventually it is converted into an active hormone.

“What is a normal level of vitamin D? That is still being fought today,” Dr. Hollis said. The medical profession has not reached a consensus, and a fear of toxicity has led doctors to be conservative–too conservative, in his opinion–in how much they supplement vitamin D.

Most prenatal vitamin supplements contain 400 international units (IU) of vitamin D, while the Endocrine Society suggests pregnant and lactating women may need 1500-2000 IU. The Vitamin D Council recommends 4000, and at the Medical University of South Carolina hospital, all pregnant women are given 4000 units. After all the research done and reviewed there, Dr. Hollis said, “Our physicians have seen enough.”

The nutrient’s level in the blood varies according to a number of factors, including an individual’s exposure to sunlight, which gives it a natural boost. A 1971 study showed that lifeguards, who spent lots of time in the sun, had 250 percent higher serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D than the average, indoor-dwelling person who did not have symptoms of skeletal weakness.

In his presentation, Dr. Hollis argued that for thousands of years, vitamin D levels among most humans–hunters, gatherers, farmers–were closer to those exhibited by the lifeguards in 1971.

What’s more, the nutrient plays a role in preventing a number of diseases, including asthma in newborns (Wang, 2016). Researchers have also found links between vitamin D deficiency and hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, renal disease, autoimmune diseases and coronary heart disease (Wang, 2017 and Kriegel, 2011.)

Other researchers have reported a link between vitamin D deficiency and autism, in 15 separate studies (Cannell, 2017).

Dr. Hollis said studies show that a number of complications for pregnant women, including preterm births and pre-eclampsia, were significantly reduced when the women were given vitamin D supplements far above those found in prenatal vitamins.


photo of pregnant woman

A number of complications for pregnant women were significantly reduced when they were given vitamin D supplements far above those found in most prenatal vitamins.

Other studies show that nursing mothers with low vitamin D levels do not pass enough of the nutrient on to their babies. “It is well known that human milk is low in vitamin D,” Dr. Hollis said. “Of course human milk is deficient in vitamin D, because the mother doesn’t have it.”

He was the lead author in a 2015 study that found nursing mothers could pass sufficient vitamin D to their babies if they received 6400 units of vitamin D a day. When the mother’s own levels were high enough, she also passed the nutrient on to her child via breast milk. While nursing mothers are encouraged to give their babies vitamin D supplements, many don’t do it, he said—and in extreme cases their children can suffer fractures caused by weak bones brought on through the deficiency.

“Dr. Hollis and his colleagues have conducted some ground breaking studies regarding the nutritional needs of Vitamin D during pregnancy and lactation,” said Dr. Thayne Sweeten, director of the Immunology and Genetic Research Laboratory at the Center for Persons with Disabilities. “Deficiency of this hormone occurs in over 60% of individuals in Utah.  People need to know about these findings so that they can make informed choices to hopefully improve their vitamin D levels.”

Hollis visited USU on September 20.

CPD study continues longitudinal look at environment, children’s health

September 6, 2017 by JoLynne Lyon


photo of children holding hands

CPD researchers are re-enrolling National Children’s Study participants in a new effort to understand how the environment affects children’s health. During the National Children’s Study, the CPD site enrolled more participants than any other site in the nation.

The Center for Persons with Disabilities at Utah State University is partnering with the University of Utah on a landmark project to help researchers better understand children’s health.

For a year now, data for what is now called the Utah Children’s Project has been collected on a number of different factors: the effects of exposure to air pollution and environmental chemicals; stress, sleep and nutrition.  This year, researches added the effects of the microbiome (microorganisms carried on the skin, nasal cavities and the digestive system) to the list of factors being studied.

The Utah Children’s Project has joined with other research sites around the country in re-enrolling the National Children’s Study participants who contributed data from 2009 through 2012. This national effort combines information from former National Children’s Study sites in an initiative called the Environmental Influences on Children’s Health Outcomes (ECHO). It is funded through the National Institutes of Health, and it continues the longitudinal collection of data for up to seven years.

The CPD site enrolled more families in the National Children’s Study than any other site in the country. Re-enrollment is going well, said Dr. Mark Innocenti, who directs the research and evaluation division of the CPD. He is leading the Utah Children’s Project at the CPD site. “We have a friendly population here in Utah. … It’s nice that they’re willing to help move science along.”

Both ECHO and the Utah Children’s Project aim to understand the effects of environment on children’s health, from before birth and on into childhood. Thanks to the information collected, future researchers can better understand factors that affect children’s health, and in what ways.

Data comes to the project via questionnaires, physical exams, swabs and blood draws at the Center for Persons with Disabilities and other sites involved in the Utah Children’s Project.

The ECHO initiative will examine how the factors might influence gene expression and health through childhood and adolescence, especially as it relates to upper and lower airway health, obesity, neurodevelopment, positive health outcomes and satisfaction with life.

The data collected will later be analyzed to answer a number of future research questions, Innocenti said.