The Children's Institute Blog

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...

Transition Tuesdays: Global Links

Posted by The Children's Institute - Mar 20, 2018

Noah Hewitt, a student at The Day School at The Children’s Institute, circles the table knowingly with a hand-held bin filled with medical supplies – baby-bottle tops, plastic IV tubing, and paper masks. Spotting the correct match, he reaches a gloved hand into the bin and starts sorting.

“I like sorting and stuff,” said Noah, 18, who this morning is sporting his customary Pittsburgh Pirates gear. “I’ve sorted here a couple of times. It’s easy for me!”

Noah is one of nearly a half-dozen transition-age Day School students who trek to Global Links in Green Tree, Pa. each week to sort supplies. This week, the supplies they’re sorting – donated by area hospitals and doctors’ offices – are being sent to a rural region of Bolivia. More than 20 bins are stretched across the table. The Day School Community Based Instruction coaches place a different donated medical supply item in each bin. Then, students have to scan the table to find the correct match as they sort through a large array of donated medical supplies. Noah describes the task as easy – but this job takes a lot of concentration and attention to detail. Read More...

Meet The Kids on The Block

Posted by The Children's Institute - Mar 06, 2018

School counselors outside Pittsburgh encountered some issues before winter break when a student, who has Down syndrome, was being bullied by her peers.

“We found that a lot of it was coming from a place of not understanding, of treating someone badly because they’re different,” said Julia Taylor, counselor at Gill Hall and McClellan elementary schools in the West Jefferson Hills school district.

Enter Kids on the Block.

Julia reached out to Judy Parker, who heads the donor-backed Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh program with Bruce Adamson, and explained the situation. Judy and Bruce were at the school, performing with puppets in front of classes of kids, within weeks.

“They did several different, very targeted shows – they were able to hone in on the grade level,” Julia said. “It was a nice shared experience that led to conversation about bullying in the classroom. It led to better understanding.”

Judy and Bruce’s approach is simple: they lead a puppet show where they introduce characters with disabilities and show that, despite differences, people have lots in common.

Judy says there are nine different types of skits they’ve been doing since 1991 with school children in a 60- to 70-mile radius of Greensburg, their home-base. The Kids on the Block interactive puppetry program reached 13,196 children in grades K through 5 in 38 Western Pennsylvania schools last school year.

“I think the important message is the more kids understand the differences, the disabilities, the more they understand the person and feel comfortable interacting with them,” Judy said. “They don’t feel they have to avoid them or stay away from them. The more understanding, the more acceptance.”

The Kids on the Block program, which is used across the nation, “uses the non-threatening medium of puppetry to introduce a number of sensitive topics to children in the classroom,” according to a Kids on the Block team in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Because Kids on the Block uses puppets, this allows for a unique and effective brand of communication, especially since children are often hesitant to interact freely with adults.”

For public schools, the assembly is typically free, as long as the funding is available. The Pennsylvania Department of Education has approved this program, and the Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) provides the funding.

For private schools, the fee for The Kids on the Block assembly is $240 plus mileage for one program and $225 for each additional program on the same day. These fees are used to maintain the quality of the program-- no profit is made for The Children's Institute.

For more information, to schedule an appearance or to find out what funding might be available for your school, call 412.420.2344.


Clinician Spotlight: Kate Duffy, Physical Therapist

Posted by The Children's Institute - Feb 28, 2018

Today, the final day of February, we continue our Clinician Spotlight series by profiling Kate Duffy, a physical therapist in The Children's Institute's Wexford satellite.

I have been working in the pediatric setting of physical therapy for almost eight years. I’ve been at the Wexford satellite of The Children’s Institute for outpatient therapy for about five and a half years. I also have experience in Early Intervention.

Where did you go to college? I graduated from Slippery Rock University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program in 2010. My undergraduate degree is in Exercise Science, also from Slippery Rock. 
What inspired you to go into your field?
My sister was a competitive gymnast, and she had a number of orthopedic injuries treated through PT over the years. On occasion, I’d be along for some of her sessions and was fascinated by the environment and the process. Later on, I observed a school-based therapist. We saw kids of all ages in schools, preschools, and homes. I enjoyed seeing the variety in age and functional level—I knew that there would always be new things to see and learn and it was sure to be an exciting career path.

What do you like most about your job?
I love learning and using new treatment approaches. I feel like I’m a very different therapist now than I was when I first started working in this field, and I plan to continue to learn and evolve in the years to come. After attending a course a couple of years ago, I’ve taken a huge interest in postural alignment of the rib-cage and pelvis—good alignment in the trunk is such an important building block for all that we do. It impacts the way that we breathe, move, and balance. It can help with pain, change the way someone walks, or help a child to activate muscles in anticipation of a challenge to their balance. I’ve been taking a look at all of my patients through this lens and find that it is beneficial for a number of them, from babies to teenagers (and beyond!) and through a range of diagnoses.
I am excited by the vast expanse of ideas, research, and approaches that can help children of all ages make improvements and reach their goals.

Do you have any pets?
A big, fluffy Labradoodle named Tripp.

Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy baking, especially cookies and muffins! My family will often go for walks on trails in some local parks when the weather is nice. My interests jump around with various crafts and art-related projects; lately, I’ve been really into painting.

Do you want to give shout-outs to any family – nuclear or otherwise – in the area?
My husband Michael and our kids Bryson and Bree J

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose?
I’d have a “pause” button that I could use to selectively pause time and people/events around me. It would be so cool to literally turn off distractions for a minute to focus on a special moment in the day or finish a task more efficiently.

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