The Children's Institute Blog

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.”
 Read More...



Celebrate Autistic Community Event at The Children's Institute

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 25, 2017

The Celebrate Autistic Community event, slated for April 29 at The Children’s Institute, is anything but your typical event about autism. Just ask Cori Frazer, who heads Pittsburgh Center for Autistic Advocacy, which is sponsoring the casual, drop-in event from 1 to 4 pm. Admission is free.

“Our goal is really to celebrate our community and educate people about autistic culture. Autism is often thought of in medicalized terms, but while the importance of support and healthcare for our community cannot be understated, we also want to highlight the cultural aspects of autism,” Cori said. “This event is different because it has had autistic people lead the planning process from the beginning. While we have had wonderful support from our allies in the community, every part of this event has been planned by autistic people with the goal of creating space for autistic community in Pittsburgh.” Read More...



Celebrating National OT Month: Luke's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 24, 2017

Luke Laskowski already was doing early intervention and seeing an occupational therapist when doctors diagnosed him with autism three weeks before his third birthday in 2015.

“He was doing some ear-covering and was delayed in his milestones – He didn’t walk on his own ‘til 15 months and he didn’t have a lot of words,” said Bethany, mother of Luke and his older sister, Sophia, 7.

“I always say there’s a reason God gave me Luke and God gave me Sophia,” she said. “Sophia is so understanding that Luke is a little bit different child.”

Shortly after the diagnosis, Luke saw occupational therapist Carolyn Dzialakiewicz and, later, certified occupational therapy assistant Chad Bender, known affectionately to the preschooler as “Mr. Chad.”

“He still thinks Mr. Chad is just his friend and, given that relationship, he’s pushed Luke and gotten results out of Luke that have shocked us,” Bethany said. “Mr. Chad is relentless in trying to reach this kid and I am so grateful for that – I can’t even begin to tell you.” Read More...



Celebrating National OT Month: Andrew's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 20, 2017


When Andrew McElhaney was a baby, his mother, Allison, could tell he was little different.

“He was walking at nine months old but everything else was delayed,” she told me. “At two, he wasn’t speaking a lot, not calling me Mommy. Those red flags got me thinking, ‘We’ve got to get him checked out.’”

When Andrew was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism at age three, Allison knew that the first few years would be the most important, as well as the most formative.

“My biggest fear when they told me he had autism is that he wouldn’t be able to function,” she said. “I took that and ran with it to make sure he had everything he needed. We started a lot of speech therapy and occupational therapy. Now, here he is, and I’m just really grateful to everyone who’s pointed us in the right direction.”

“He’s talking now, saying, ‘Mommy, can I have a drink?’” she added. “It’s wonderful!” Read More...



Pittsburgh Penguins Visit Our Amazing Kids

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 17, 2017


Cameron Kennedy was in his 16th day of inpatient treatment at The Children’s Institute last week when former Pittsburgh Penguin Tyler Kennedy – no relation! – and team mascot Iceburgh came to Squirrel Hill.

Tyler, the former number 48 who won the Stanley Cup with the Pens in 2009, handed out hats, posed for tons of photos and shared a few from his cell phone, and signed a slew of autographs. But the loopy Iceburgh stole the show for some of our amazing kids.

“Iceburgh played pool – it was so much fun, it was hilarious,” Cameron laughed.

Brent Zierer also thrilled at the chance to rub elbows with members of the Pens’ organization.

“I’ve been to a Penguins game and I went to a Mario Lemieux charity event,” said Brent, pausing after crafting a pennant emblazoned with the phrase “It’s a great day for hockey in Pittsburgh.” “This is pretty fun and exciting, though. It makes staying in the hospital fun, and it makes it interesting with everything else going on around you.”

The Pens appeared last week to promote the team’s playoff match-up against Columbus. But, no matter the occasion, the visit positively lit up Austin’s Playroom – a room named in The Children’s Institute for Mario Lemieux’s son.

“The smiles on their faces are priceless,” said Sarah L. Miedel, manager of the Therapeutic Activities Department. “It’s something they don’t get to experience every day.” Read More...



Celebrating National OT Month: Gabriel's Story

Posted by The Children's Institute - Apr 14, 2017

When Gabriel was born prematurely in June 2014 with bleeding in his brain that caused cerebral palsy and global developmental delays, doctors said he might never sit up on his own.

On March 20, after a month of intensive inpatient treatment at The Children’s Institute, he rode a bike.

“He’s doing things the doctors said he’d never do,” said Lea, his mother, who’s been dorming with Gabriel during his inpatient stay. “I think the one thing that Gabriel has taught us is to not lose hope. It’s so easy to look at him as a diagnosis and not let him be a kid. But allowing him to just play and learn through playing – and that’s what they do here – you can see him blossoming.”

When Gabriel arrived at The Children’s Institute on Feb. 27, his parents were hoping to see improvements in their son’s ability to feed himself, help more with getting dressed and providing some new fine-motor skills to his play. His receptive language – the ability to understand information shared with him – is excellent, but the three-year-old, who loves classical music, movement and playing with balls, is nonverbal and suffers visual impairment from the bleeding in his brain. Read More...



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