The Children's Institute Blog

Transition Tuesday: Luke's Deliveries

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 22, 2018

Bob Russell, a Work ETC teacher in The Day School at The Children’s Institute, gives a simple instruction to student Luke Recker.

“Today, we have some big things – Luke, are you all set up with your words?” he asks.

Luke smiles widely, then nods.

Luke has cerebral palsy, uses a wheelchair, and speaks, largely, through an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. But that doesn’t stop the JobSpan participant from delivering the mail throughout Children’s Institute’s Squirrel Hill campus every Wednesday morning.  Read More...

Clinician Spotlight: Jolyn Kisiday, SLP

Posted by The Children's Institute - May 09, 2018

Today, in honor of Better Speech & Hearing Month, we speak with speech-language pathologist Jolyn Kisiday.

When did you start working in your field? I started working in June 2015.

When did you start working at The Children’s Institute? I started working at CI in June 2016.

Where did you grow up? I grew up in a small town in Indiana County, PA called Marion Center.

As a child, what did you want to be? I wanted to be the most random things. My parents were remodeling our house when I was little so I swear we lived at furniture stores. I had a passion to be a “furniture lady”. I also wanted to be a secretary or in a girl band due to my obsession with the Spice Girls.

What did your high-school guidance counselor say you should do for a living? To be honest, she had no influence on my college selection or career. I cannot remember even speaking with her -- haha. Read More...

Twins In The Prader-Willi World

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 24, 2018

On May 8, 2004, Dianna Schatzlein nearly died.

Hours later, the Connecticut woman, suffering from intense premature labor, high blood pressure, and a host of other problems, became a mother for the third – and fourth – time via emergency C-section.

She didn’t see her Identical Mirror Twin boys, Edward and Stephen, right away. But when a nurse showed her photographs, she knew something was wrong.

After lengthy testing, the boys were diagnosed with Prader-Willi syndrome, developmental delays and autism. Every day has been a struggle.

“I can’t explain it. When I read up on Prader-Willi syndrome, it just matched,” Dianna said. “As a mother, you just know – there’s something significantly wrong.”

Prader-Willi Syndrome (PWS) is a rare, complex genetic disorder affecting appetite, growth, metabolism, cognitive functioning, and behavior. The hallmark characteristics include chronic feelings of insatiable hunger and slowed metabolism that can lead to excessive eating and life-threatening obesity. Estimates say one in 12,000 to 15,000 people has Prader-Willi. Although considered “rare,” PWS is one of the most common conditions seen in genetic clinics and is the most common genetic cause of obesity that has been identified to date.

At age five, the twins were caught stealing food from trashcans at school. Later, they set a small fire in their home near New Haven, Conn. when they tried to cook cat food in the toaster oven. Read More...

Meet Katie / National OT Month and Autism Awareness Month

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 23, 2018

Katie was Christy Nicola’s second child and she knew pretty early on she was different.

“She was too perfect. She never cried,” Christy said. “I would sit her in a bouncy chair and she’d be fine – for a long time. I knew right away. She had no eye contact or the need for contact with me. Julianna, she spoke, she was getting around before she was 1. Katie came along and there was no babbling, there was no first word.”

At 3, Katie was diagnosed with autism. Now 7 and one of three children in the family, we feature Katie today as part of National OT Month and Autism Awareness Month.

“When I first met Katie, she wasn’t doing any self-care skills by herself.”

That’s occupational therapist Barb Warden, who regularly meets and treats Katie. Read More...

CIO Nominated As CIO of the Year

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 19, 2018

Databases? Shared resources?

Sharon Dorogy, who has led The Children’s Institute’s information systems team for nearly 25 years, remembers when three people would come to a meeting with three different print-outs of data on the same topic, and when “voicemail” meant home-style phone answering machines on specific people’s desks.

“The whole concept of a source (Data Repository/Data Warehouse) system started that many years ago,” Sharon said. “We were tackling the hard stuff – ‘How do you get the information, that documentation?’ Coming from paper was a monumental task, but we did it.”

Sharon’s accomplishments don’t end there. In addition to shoring up the organization in advance of Y2K, she oversaw the creation of two EMRs, or Electronic Medical Record systems, and a third selection is set to launch soon. Read More...

Swimming With Autism: Ollie's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 10, 2018

Amanda Kotts – the mother of Ollie, a five-year-old Pittsburgh boy with autism – knew the statistic.

According to a 2012 National Autism Association report, 91 percent of accidental deaths that occur when a child or young adult with autism elopes or wanders are related directly with drowning.

Blythe Westendorf – an occupational therapist at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh working on her doctoral project – heard the news.

Avonte Oquendo, a boy with autism, escaped his school in New York City in 2013 and drowned nearby.

So, with Ollie, Blythe launched a program that will teach children with autism how to swim – and all of the cumulative improvements that go along with it. We feature them today as part of Autism Awareness Month and National Occupational Therapy Month.


Transition Tuesday: Maggie Makes the Most of Job Placements

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 03, 2018

Maggie working in her volunteer job placement
Maggie Prokopik is a transition star.

The Day School student, who we feature today as we look at JobSpan, Adult Prep, and Transition Services at The Children's Institute, is involved in not one, not two, but three volunteer job placements. She does inventory and works as a cashier at the Southwestern VA Medical Center, while also volunteering at Global Links in Green Tree, and the Jewish Community Center is Squirrel Hill.

Maggie, for her part, is pretty modest about her work.

"It's fun," she said. "I like to help people." Read More...

Clinician Spotlight: Clinical Dietitian Lauren Seaman

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 02, 2018

Lauren SeamanToday, to celebrate National Nutrition Month, we present a question-and-answer session with Clinical Dietitian Lauren Seaman.

When did you start working in your field?
I started working in the nutrition field in 2010 through a dietetic internship at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore.

When did you start working at The Children’s Institute?
September of 2011.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Huntingdon, a small town in central PA. Read More...

Transition Tuesday: Dylan and The School Store

Posted by The Children's Institute - Mar 27, 2018

A girl walks up to the School Store counter with a handful of candy.

“That costs 95 cents,” the cashier responds.

The voice you now are imagining is not Dylan Dzikowski, the School Store cashier and a student at The Day School at The Children’s Institute, but, instead, that of ACCENT 1000, an Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC) device he controls simply by moving his eyes.

Dylan, a transition-age student at The Day School at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, is considered nonverbal but, but, thanks to his AAC device, he is rather chatty. Dylan is quick to tell you his name and his love for Netflix and video games. And what does he like about working through The Day School’s transition program in the School Store, a convenience store-style space in The Children’s Institute’s Squirrel Hill campus?

“People,” he smiles and says with his AAC eye-gaze device. Read More...

Vote for Leo, The Children's Institute Therapy Dog!

Posted by The Children's Institute - Mar 23, 2018


That’s the battle-cry of Linda Shooer, the Moon Township, Pa. resident whose 11 ½ -year-old Portuguese Water Dog named – you guessed it – Leo is in the running for the 2018 American Humane Hero Dog Award. The winner, who is crowned based on vote totals online, will fly to Beverly Hills for their moment on the red carpet and on TV.

But Leo is no show dog.

For the past 10 years, Leo has been volunteering at The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh, engaging originally with our Prader-Willi Syndrome population but, more recently, providing pet therapy to kids in The Day School. They walk in, pet him, and love him. He loves them back.

“He’s very, very gentle. As much as he is spunky and energetic, there’s a gentle side to him,” said Linda, who works in professional development at Carnegie Mellon University. “When he’s around children, they just seem to bond together.” Read More...

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