The Children's Institute Blog

Join The Amazing Runners for the Team Alex Fund Run

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 08, 2017

The Team Alex Fund started in 2009 around a four-year-old Pittsburgher with a rare spinal disorder. This year, they’re looking for you.

Organizers are throwing the Eighth Annual Team Alex 5K/5-Mile Run, Walk and Hand-Cycle on Saturday, May 20, starting at 9 a.m. at the North Park Boathouse in Allison Park, Pa. Post-race festivities include food and beverages, a DJ, awards ceremony, a 50-yard dash for kids, and a Chinese auction. Those interested in taking part can register online at

The Children’s Institute team – should you choose to join us – is called The Amazing Runners.
The walk event is the organization’s biggest annual fundraiser, and has helped it fund more than $150,000 in grants and awards during the past eight years, said Christine O’Brien, a Team Alex Fund board member who’s also a social worker at The Children’s Institute. Read More...

Samantha's Army Supports Brain Injury Recovery in Highmark Walk

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 05, 2017

When Samantha Anderson was a year old, she suffered a near-drowning in a bathtub that left her with a hypoxic-ischemic brain injury.

“Four years ago, when she got to The Children’s Institute, she couldn’t sit, she couldn’t eat and she was barely making any sounds. She was G-tube-dependent and had a trach. She was minimally functioning, from a physical perspective,” said her mother, Michele. “The care she got at Children’s Hospital saved her life. But the care that she got at The Children’s Institute … helped her regain her quality of life.”

Today, Samantha, now five, is getting ready to enter kindergarten, has tested out of both speech therapy for talking and out of cognitive support, and is raising funds for The Children’s Institute as part of her Samantha’s Army walkers in Saturday’s Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community. You can show your support by donating to her personal pageRead More...

Emerging Occupational Therapist Was Former Patient: Brittany's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 05, 2017

Emerging occupational therapist Brittany DelSignore has something to say: she’s been here before.

The St. Francis University senior had a stroke around the time of her birth and then went through seven years of intense occupational and physical therapy as a child – later deciding she wanted to return the favor.

“Both my parents know I have a big heart. I want to please people, I want to help them. My mom saw that and said, ‘Why don’t you do that for a living?’” said Brittany, whose 22nd birthday falls in May. “When I was going to high school and thinking about a career to pursue in college, my mom asked, ‘How could you impact this world? How can you make an impression and give back?’ I thought about going into OT and PT and being someone like my therapists were to me.” Read More...

Special "Promposal" Excites Students for Day School Prom

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 04, 2017

Students Olivia Osborne and Nico Lombardo are going to The Children’s Institutes’ Day School prom together and, in true contemporary fashion, the whole thing started recently with a "promposal."

“Nico’s mom sent flowers for him to give to Olivia and ask her out to prom, so we made a big deal out of it,” social skills therapist Stacy Porter Smith said. “Everyone was super-excited.”

Nico and Olivia are both non-verbal, but staff helped them pop the question on everyone’s mind when Nico came to Olivia’s classroom with her bouquet of flowers. Her response? She smiled widely, did not pause or hesitate, and pushed the button on an iPad – “YES.” The two both went to the prom together last year, too. Read More...

The Day School Dinos Continue to Spread Cheer

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 02, 2017

Some of the students grin with anticipation, their bright-orange team shirts glowing, as Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) Kimberly Blicha sounds the cue: “Ready, begin.”

“We’re The Day School Dinos and we’re here to say / we’ll be amazing every day,” they chant, waving their pom-pom’ed arms in unison. “So, clap your hands, stomp your feet and give a great big ROAR / Let’s give it up for the dinosaurs / Go DINOS!”

This year, the group’s fourth, a total of 17 kids from The Children’s Institute’s Day School will fine-tune their social skills and peer interaction as they learn about various types of dance and, of course, cheer at school functions such as pep rallies in the squad. Read More...

Reaching Goals Through Occupational Therapy: Nia's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 02, 2017

Nia Holyfield went through some complicated emotions when meningitis left her paralyzed from the neck down at age 17 in 2012. For one, she was mad.

“I was pretty hostile back then. I wasn’t used to all the dependency. I didn’t like being dependent on people,” she said.

What a difference a few years can make.

Now 21, Nia is working on getting around with a walker, fine-tuning her balance, and attending Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) in hopes that she can one day become a nurse and give back.

“I know I went through a lot of stuff and I can help parents understand from my point-of-view,” Nia said. “I’m kind of open to everything right now but I do kind of want to work in a NICU [neonatal intensive care unit].”

“This changed me, made me more wise, made me better. It helped me grow as a person,” she added. “Sometimes, I can't do things a typical 21-year-old can do. But, in a lot of ways, I’m doing things most 21-year-olds aren’t doing.” Read More...

Highmark Walk Helps Benefit The Children's Institute

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 01, 2017

In recent years, Carly Hicks has taken part in a Color Run Pittsburgh, and in an AIDS Fund Walk and Electric Run
in Philadelphia. The Highmark Walk for a Healthy Community, however, holds a special place for The Children’s Institute’s Manager, Special Projects.

“We like to keep our eyes and ears open for new opportunities, new activities, and the walks are good for that,” said Carly, who’s walked for The Children’s Institute two years in a row during the Highmark-sponsored event. “This one really gets you energized because you’re giving back, too.”

And, when it comes to organizations that participate in the Highmark Walk, they’re really giving back; all proceeds raised in the walk – slated this year for Saturday, May 13 in Pittsburgh – go directly to the organizations they represent. Read More...

Celebrating National OT Month: Thierry's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 28, 2017

When Thierry Eubanks tried to focus too hard – on homework, maybe, or putting up her hair in a ponytail – things went haywire.

“I was ready to explode in a total hyperspace stage,” the 10-year-old Pittsburgh girl recalled.

Then, The Children’s Institute introduced her to the Interactive Metronome. A fully customizable software interface that arrived at our Squirrel Hill offices in 2015, the IM, for short, tackles motor coordination, executive functioning, problem solving, organization and attention. Thierry underwent a 16-session program with the equipment that ended in March.

“It’s been so wonderful; I was afraid to stop,” laughed her mother, Rochelle, as Thierry watched a video screen filled with jogging sandwiches and clapped rhythmically to the IM’s steady pulse-beat. “I saw the impact when she was getting ready for school or packing a bag to go somewhere. She was doing that on her own and remembering everything she needed!” Read More...

Pittsburgh Pirates Visit to The Children's Institute a Home Run for All Involved

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 27, 2017

Allyson Clark, a Buffalo teen taking part in The Children’s Institute’s inpatient program, has at least one New York Yankees fan in her family, but that didn’t stop her from smiling in pictures with the Pittsburgh Pirates when a crew from the hometown team visited yesterday.

“It was something fun to do during a break in our day,” Allyson said.

“It was really nice to meet them all,” added Ashlee Hamilton, another inpatient.

John Jaso, Chris Stewart, team president Frank Coonelly and coaches Dave Jauss, Kimera Bartee and Euclides Rojas -- all clothed in Bucco yellow -- passed out team gear, signed autographs and generally brightened the day for a group of kids from The Children’s Institute’s Day School and inpatient hospital. Read More...

Day School Students Grow as They Help Community Garden Flourish

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 26, 2017

Something is blooming thanks to The Children’s Institute.

Since the beginning of this school year, a group of 10 young adults from The Children’s Institute’s Day School has been tending to a garden off-campus in Penn Hills as part of their adult prep work. Led by Occupational Therapy Assistant Tracey Weber, the students water seeds, till soil for plants, lug mulch, and do other heavy work at the community garden.

For one student with balance issues, the visits help teach how to walk on a variety of surfaces. For others, such as students with autism, the trips provide an opportunity for sensory input that helps them regulate emotions and learn new motor skills, Tracey said.

“But the main reason we go is that it’s meaningful,” Tracey said. “We’re able to be purposeful and give back to the community.”

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