Monday, November 14, 2016

The Paths That Lead Us

 
When you think about why you do your job, what comes to mind? Maybe you always dreamed of your career from when you were a little kid, or perhaps you developed a passion for a trade and worked at it, made it your life’s work.  Or possibly you’re still searching for the thing that will fulfill you. Sometimes, like in Kathy Brown’s case, our work finds us.
Kathy Brown
Brown, Director of Developmental Services at NCSS, eagerly entered the mental health field in 1979 after graduating from college.  For two years, she worked at the state hospital, and things were different back then for those with disabilities. It wasn’t until 1990 that the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed, a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, and it wasn’t until 1995 that the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Act was passed. To say the least, Brown has been witness to some pretty big changes on the Vermont hill. Brown notes that when she first entered the field, the population she served was institutionalized; now they are living in the community with their families, and have access to education and a fulfilling life just like everyone else.
Brown smiles as she reflects on the start of the career. Apparently, she surprised herself by getting married—something she swore she’d never do—and then again by having two sons—something else she said she’d never do! Everything changed for Brown when her oldest son Kyle got into an accident and endured a severe traumatic brain injury. He spent a year and a half in rehab, regaining skills he had learned once as a very small child. There is intensity in Brown when she talks, especially when she recalls reentering the field of developmental services in 1996. Brown left mental health in 1981 and worked as a program manager at what is now Mylan for 23 years. But her son’s journey lit a fire in her, she says, and that’s when she applied at NCSS. Over the last ten years, she’s worn a number of hats at the agency: she started working on the employment team, then oversaw the behavioral team; she then became interim director, got her master’s in rehabilitative counseling, and in 2014, Brown found herself in the director’s chair where she currently sits. This is quite a seat to settle into, as there are over 250 clients receiving services, 157 staff working in the division, and 110 contracts with shared living providers. Brown certainly doesn’t do it alone; she has help from many people, like her leadership team: Amy Bronson, Assistant Director; Emily Norris, Assistant Director; and Amber Schaeffler.

Schaeffler, a licensed clinical social worker in the DS division, was on the NCSS Here for You television show and also presented at the last Grand Rounds seminar along with Brown. She coordinates the Clinical Oversight Committee and the Internal Behavior Support Review. Schaeffler is also getting certified in biofeedback and neurofeedback, both alternative forms of therapy that are quite effective with those with developmental disabilities. Biofeedback refers to the clinical applications where physiological signals from the body are used for auditory or visual feedback. When given this feedback during a therapy or training session, an individual can learn how to alter their breathing or behavior. Biofeedback provides a visual representation of a client’s stress, thereby giving them the tools to learn about their body and shift behavior—even slightly—to work toward a goal. A client’s ideal BPM (breaths per minute) will provide the most restorative functions for the body; this information can be gathered from biofeedback. With biofeedback, an individual’s tension is visually displayed on a screen, providing a powerful tool for recognizing stress within the body. The visual graphs allow individuals to see the control they have over their own Autonomic Nervous System and that can be very powerful in healing. This form of therapy is especially beneficial for those who may not find success with traditional talk therapy.
 This is just one of the many programs available within the DS division.* Maybe you’re wondering what makes someone eligible for DS services. There are several criteria: an individual must have an IQ of 70 or less and have significant adaptive behavior challenges in at least two areas of daily living—in other words, everyday social and practical skills.  The Intellectual Disability must have originated before the age of 18. This last criterion can prove tricky for staff in the DS division, especially if an individual who has never sought services before attempts to access DS services as an adult. Before services can be provided, staff must sift through years of documentation to find evidence of the disability prior to the age of 18; this might mean contacting previous school placements or family members conducting intensive interviews to establish functioning as a child. It can be challenging for our Intake Coordinator Samantha Burnell to locate, engage, and scour through information to uncover this proof; staff wants to deliver services in the most meaningful way and when they are needed.
Amber Schaeffler
Schaeffler, like Brown, followed an interesting path before coming to NCSS, and hers was punctuated by several advance degrees. Given her position now, you might not know that she has a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminology and a master’s in criminal justice. That’s not all! She has a master’s in social work too! Schaeffler isn’t just wealthy in degrees; she’s also rich in life experience: before she moved to Vermont, where she met her husband, Schaeffler worked with the Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Late-Deafened and Deaf-Blind who had experienced domestic violence and/or sexual violence. It’s special that she found herself working at NCSS—given her background—since NCSS is home to the only developmental deaf services team in the state.

Talking to Brown and Schaeffler, it’s easy to see how they landed where they are. Schaeffler is approachable, unassuming, and gentle; she sits with her hands folded in her lap and smiles as she answers questions. Brown is soft spoken but pointed in her speech, and it’s evident that she’s passionate about her work. She knows what she’s fighting for every day. The most common misperception of those with intellectual disabilities, Brown says, is that they are not intelligent or capable of living a life like everyone else in their communities. “They are extremely capable of that,” Brown says. “They should have the same rights as all of us.” Brown says that the laws have heightened awareness and given advocates some teeth, but there is still a lot of stigma. Anyone doing this work day in and day out is doing it because they care about crushing the stigma that follows individuals with disabilities. They care about every individual being able to fulfill their goals.
Some of that stigma is in the way we talk. Putting the disability before the individual can perpetuate stigma, and you might be surprised by how commonplace this language is. How often have you heard the following phrases? “She’s autistic.” “He’s learning disabled.” “They’re in special education.” This kind of language defines the individual as their disability, rather than a person who has a disability. “She has autism.” “He has a learning disability.” “They receive special education services.” Think about it: Would any of us want to be defined by just one thing?
 
*There are many services and programs available within the DS division of NCSS. You can read more about these services on our website by clicking on the “Developmental Services” tab at the top of page or by clicking on this link: http://www.ncssinc.org/developmental-services
 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Welcome to Minds & Matters, the new NCSS blog!

Hello and welcome!

Our blog is also about to head down a new path, and we’re very excited to be launching it at the same time that our responsive website has its debut. We know how busy life can be. Every day can feel like a marathon and you’re perpetually stuck at mile 23!


You might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t have time to read a blog!” While some days you might be right, we hope you can find the time (at least some of the time) to join us on our new path.

Did you know that 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness in a given year? And 1 in 25 adults in America lives with a serious mental illness? Even with these numbers, the average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is 8 to 10 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). While there may be a number of reasons for this statistic, we at NCSS recognize that there is a social stigma associated with mental illness; this stigma can feel debilitating and it prevents the majority of people with mental illness from seeking help. NCSS prefers to view STIGMA as an acronym for Striving To Increase Good Mental Health Awareness.

Minds & Matters is for everybody—clients, staff, families, community members—and we invite you to join us. A blog post may focus on one of our programs here at NCSS, offer a discussion about a mental health article or issue, cast a glow on an inspiring story from our community, or provide tips and pointers for general health and well-being. It is NCSS’ mission to build a stronger community; engaging in meaningful conversations can move us just a bit closer to our goal.

We hope you’ll visit Minds & Matters again.

we’re here for you

Friday, February 22, 2013

Enhancing Your Child's Communication Skills

By Liza Boudreau, NCSS CIS Early Interventionist

As a parent or caregiver it is never too early to enhance your child’s language and communication. Believe it or not, early communication begins in the first couple months of life. Newborns will coo and turn their head towards you as you talk to them. As your newborn grows they will begin to babble and have various types of cries depending on their needs. In the toddler years, children will begin to use gestures such as pointing and waving. They will also begin to make sounds with intonation and try to imitate words. All of these are early forms of communication.

Speech and language is beyond just talking. Pre-speech and language skills begin with the ability to imitate sounds; turn-taking skills (learned through games such as peek-a-boo); visual skills (looking at the speaker and looking at objects); auditory skills (listening to speech sounds); tactile skills (learning about touch, exploring objects in the mouth); oral motor skills (using the tongue, moving lips); and cognitive skills (understanding object permanence, cause and effect relationships). 

Parents and caregivers are the primary communicators interacting with their babies and young children. There is a great deal of things that you can do to help your children learn to communicate. Here are some tips to help enhance your child’s speech and language skills:

§   Remember that language is more than spoken words. When you are modeling words keep in mind that language can be reciprocated through gestures and facial expressions as well.

§   Provide many models. Many times repetitions and experiences are needed to happen in order to learn a word. Repeat and model what your child says.

§   Use real objects and real situations. When you are teaching a concept, use daily activities and real situations as much as possible. For example, teach the names of foods as your toddler is eating them. Name and ask them to identify body parts while you are bathing your child. It is important to keep in mind that communication is part of yours and your child’s daily life.

§   Make reading to your child part of your daily routine. Reading is a very enriching learning experience. Reading can simply be looking at the pictures and making up a story of your own. Asking your child to point to pictures in the book and eventually name them. Remember that this should be a fun time for both you and your child but keep in mind that offering information rather than drilling with questions is the best approach. This will put less pressure on your child and make them more comfortable to begin talking to you.

§   Follow your child's lead. If your child shows interest in an object, person or event, build off of that and provide them with a word for that concept. There are many milestones as the child progresses towards using speech.

§   Most importantly, take the time to get down to your child’s level and HAVE FUN playing with them. Learning happens through play!

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development, reach out to your pediatrician or you can also contact the Family Center at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and speak with the Children’s Integrated Services Intake Coordinator, Heather Wilson, at (802) 393-6601. 

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Submitted by Liza Boudreau, Children’s Integrated Services, Early Interventionist, NCSS Children, Youth & Family Services Division.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Wintertime Family Fun!


It's finally winter in Franklin County and you are wondering what my family can do during this winter season.  In Franklin County there is plenty to do whether you are more inclined to spend your time playing in the snow or keeping warm inside your home.  For those who love to spend time outside I suggest exploring some of the numerous opportunities available in our community;

 

  • Hard'ack is located in St. Albans at 179 Congress Street.  Hard'ack provides great winter activities such as sliding, downhill skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, snowshoeing and cross country skiing on the numerous trails on the backside of the hill.  There hours of operation are Thursday-Friday 4:00pm-9:00pm; Saturday 12:00pm-9:00pm; and Sunday 12:00pm-5:00pm.  Best of all the recreation at Hard'ack is free of charge!
  • Jay Peak and Smuggler's Notch are close by and offer downhill skiing and snowboarding for beginners and experts.  Keep your eyes open for discount deals for Vermonters and daily deals which can be found on LivingSocial, 802shopping, Localvore Today, and Today's jumponit Deals.  This will certainly save you a little bit of money. 
  • The Missisquoi Rail Trail is 26 miles long and can be used for snowshoeing and snowmobiling.  You can find several pull offs to park your vehicle and begin your adventure. 
  • The Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge is open year round and will provide a great place to go snowshoeing.  It is located on Tabor Road in Swanton. Visit the Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge website; http://www.fws.gov/northeast/missisquoi/  to read the activities newsletter and their upcoming events.  
  • Hazen's Notch which is located in Montgomery and has great trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and educational programs.  Visit their website; www.hazensnotch.org to learn about their events taking place throughout winter.
  • Ice fishing for Trout, Salmon, Bass on various different points around Lake Champlain.  Before heading out please adhere to Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department regulations and recommendations. 

 

Please remember before going outside to wear the proper gear to keep yourself and family safe and protected. 

 

Now for those who enjoy the warmth of their own home or want to travel out into the community here are a few ideas;

 

  •  There are many play groups/story times available to all families in each town. 
    • The St. Albans Playgroup located at the NCSS Family Center, 130 Fisher Pond Road. Children and care providers are invited to playgroup, which is every Wednesday morning from 9:00-10:30am. 
    • A mother of Preschoolers (MOPS) is located at 1091 Fairfax Road in St. Albans.  Moms meet for creative activities, advice, encouragement, and a light lunch.  The mothers meet the first and third Friday of the month from 8:45-11:00am. 
    • Another MOPS group is held in the Richford/Enosburg area at the Lighthouse Assembly of God on 878 Horseshoes Road in East Berkshire.  The meetings are held the second Tuesday of each month. 
    • Attend a Children's Story hour/playgroups at a library;
      • St. Albans City Free Library is located at 11 Maiden Lane. A story hour is held Monday and Thursday from 10:30-11:30am. Children 0-6 and care providers are welcome to join. 
      • Swanton Public Library located at 1 First Street has a story hour for children 0-5 on Wednesday's at 10:00am.  
      • Fairfax Community Playgroup located at 17 Hunt Street has a playgroup for children 0-6 and is every Friday from 9:00-10:30am. Enjoy circle time, free play, and a snack is provided. 
      • Georgia Public Library located at 1697 Ethan Allen Highway, offers preschool story time for preschooler on Friday morning at 10:00am. Success by Six Pajama Story time is also offered every third Tuesday from 6:30 to 7:30pm. The Library offers Family Game Night every second Wednesday 6:30-7:30pm. 
      • RU12 Rainbow Reading Hour at the Bent Northrop Memorial Library located at 164 Park Street in Fairfield, offers to all children at 6:00pm every first and third Monday from 6:00-7:00pm. 
    • A fun round of bowling at the St. Albans Bowling Center located at 133 North Main Street would be a great adventure.
    • A matinee at the Welden Theater located on Main Street in St. Albans could be a great afternoon activity.  
    • Yoga Tots in Highgate at the community room in the Town Office.  Yoga Tots is offered the first Saturday of the month at 9:00am.  It is designed for ages 3-6 and registration is required.  To register for Yoga Tots call 868-3970 or email Liza at highgatepublic@comcast.net.
    • Water Babies at Branon’s Pools on Thursday at 6pm. Building Bright Futures created an opportunity for care providers and babies to enjoy fun and fitness together.

 

  • Begin a story hour at your own home with your children.  Have hot chocolate while reading a book and follow up with an activity, maybe lacing mittens for a fine motor activity?          

 

Please keep yourself and your family informed of ongoing events by Building Bright Futures. You can read more at www.buildingbrightfutures.org/.

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s development, reach out to your pediatrician or you can also contact the Family Center at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and speak with the Children’s Integrated Services Coordinator, Heather Wilson, at (802) 393-6601. 

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Submitted by Amber Stowe, Children’s Integrated Services, Early Childhood and Family Case Manager, NCSS Children, Youth & Family Services Division.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Healthy Sleep for Families


Healthy Sleep for Families

Sleep is a vital part of good health and well-being, and it is important to develop healthy sleep patterns for your children at an early age.  Many parents and caregivers have questions around the amount of sleep a child needs and how to support better sleep patterns.  The amount of sleep varies for each child.  Typically newborns sleep 16 hours a day, two year-olds sleep 11 ½ hours a day, and four year olds sleep 11 hours a day.   Helping your child obtain the right amount of sleep for their body can also help avoid behavioral issues associated with inadequate sleep.  Below are a few tips and recommendations on healthy sleep for families with young children:

-          Prepare the environment: Make sure the child has a space ready for sleep before you start the bedtime routine.  It should be quiet, dark, and not too hot or cold.

-          Set a consistent schedule: Start the bedtime routine at the same time each night.

-          Prepare the child: End the day with a quiet activity, such as a bath or reading a book, to help your child settle down.  Teach your child the Pajama Rule, where there are no loud and energetic activities once the pajamas are put on.  Children can follow a visual schedule with pictures to let them know what happens next in the evenings.  Support your child with using the bathroom beforehand. 

-          Create a nurturing routine: Many children love to read books with their parents/caregivers or talk about their day.  Share a positive moment from the day with your child and let them know what to expect tomorrow.

-          Turn off the television: Television can be a distraction to falling asleep, and the light emitted by a television is counterproductive to our body’s ability to generate melatonin, which communicates to our body that it is time to sleep.

-          Make the room comfortable: White noise from a fan can help a child ease into sleep.  Darkness can be scary for some children, and night lights can be reassuring. 

-          Stay patient but firm: Stick to the schedule and limits, so your child does not create a pattern of leaving their bedroom for attention.  Redirect your child to bed quietly, without reinforcing their behavior with a lot of conversation or emotion.

Developing healthy sleep patterns can take time for young children, and it is normal to see changes from time to time.  A great place to ask questions about your child’s sleep and health is with your pediatrician at your regular well-child visits and developmental screening.  You can also contact the Parent Child Center at Northwestern Counseling & Support Services and speak with the Children’s Integrated Services Coordinator, Heather Wilson, at (802) 393-6601 if you have additional questions or concerns with your child’s development.

Sources: Bright Futures, American Academy of Pediatrics; Zero to Three National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families; Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, Richard Ferber, M.D. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Submitted by Heather Wilson, Children’s Integrated Services Coordinator, NCSS Children, Youth & Family Services Division.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Forming Healthy Attachments

Many parents express concerns that they are not doing enough to help their young children develop. The fact is, that one of the most important things that parents can do to support healthy development in their children is to express their love and affection towards their children. Studies have shown connections not only between love and healthy attachment and emotional development, but also between love and healthy brain development.
Children need to form healthy attachments early in their lives to help them create a strong foundation for emotional well-being throughout their lives. Young children need repetition of positive, warm experiences with their caregivers to help them develop. Playing peek-a-boo, singing songs, reading books, and playing silly games that are enjoyable for the child and for the parent will help support the child’s healthy development.
Expressing love and affection is one of the most important things parents can do for their children. For many parents this may come naturally, but this can be challenging for some parents if they are facing challenges with their own mental and/or physical health or if the children are displaying challenging behavior or do not express love and affection toward their parents the way the parents hope they will. This can happen if the children are experiencing mental and/or physical health challenges, or if they have developmental differences that impact how they experience or express affection. Early experiences of trauma can also impact a child’s brain development. Children who experience a lot of stress as infants, even if they do not have explicit memories of these events, have high levels of cortisol secreted into their brain which negatively impacts brain functioning.
If you would like support forming healthy connections with your children, or if you have concerns about your child’s ability to form healthy connections with you, contact Northwestern Counseling & Support Services or speak to your child’s pediatrician. The contact at the NCSS Family Center is Heather Wilson, Children’s Integrated Services, Intake Coordinator, at 802-393-6601.
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Submitted by Annie Corrigan, CIS Early Intervention Developmental Educator, NCSS Children, Youth & Family Services Division.