The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on February 2, 1986 · Page 11
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 11

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, February 2, 1986
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Page 11
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Living Today The Salina Journal Sunday, February 2,1986 Page 11 Salina teacher of handicapped preschoolers strives for Little victories Bethel Mattlson uses a computer to teach Bess Miller, 2, the concept of "yes and no." Pat Cook, instructor at Kids Connection, encourages students, Brian fflad, 4, left, and Ralph Thompson, 3, to develop their hand skills by pushing simple objects. like a sprinter explodes from the starting block at the sound of the gun, Pat Cook is "off and running" when she opens the door to Salina's Parsons School. She puts on her blue uniform and trots from room to room, her shoulder-length blonde hair bouncing with every step. But Cook paces herself like a long-distance runner, for the road ahead is long with many mountains to overcome. A smile, a hug or a verbal exclamation provide encouragement to continue. A gold medal will never adorn Cook's neck. Watching the victories of others is her reward. Cook teaches handicapped preschoolers in a free program called Kids Connection. It is a cooperative project of the Occupational Center of Central Kansas (OCCK) and the Central Kansas Cooperative in Education. As a marathon runner senses success with each step toward the finish line, Cook and other staff members celebrate every child's accomplishment. Progress comes slowly. Youngsters struggle to hold their heads erect or to lift a crayon. "It's a real elating feeling every time we see even the smallest gain," Cook said. Simple rewards replace trophies and ribbons. "You see an awful Jot of hugging. Hugs and verbal praise are used for reinforcement." The children return hugs if they can, or they smile or vocalize their joy. Salinan Mary Miller has seen her 2-year-old daughter, Bess, who suffers from dyskinesia (abnormal movement), improve hand skills at the school. "She feeds herself now and that alleviates her frustration," Miller said. "She's real proud when she does something right. She needs a sense of accomplishment just like the rest of us." Kids Connection serves children in Saline, Dickinson, Ellsworth and Ottawa counties through three types of programs. Parsons School is the center-based one for moderately to severely handicapped children between the ages of 2 and 5. OCCK or the various school systems often provide bus service for the students attending. Another home-based program provides training for the family in the home environment and serves children under 2, according to Carolee Minor, director of rehabilitative services with OCCK. Eventually, some of those children are transferred to the center- based program. From the center, a child may enter an integrated preschool at Salina's Schilling School where six handicapped children intermingle with six non-handicapped peers. A similar setting exists for Dickinson County residents at the Abilene Community Nursery School. Many of the integrated children are able to enter regular kindergarten classes. Others attend the severely multiple handicapped classroom at Hageman School when they reach 6 years of age. At Parsons, Cook plans each child's lessons with the aid of her staff. "I try to think of what regular kids like to do and adapt it. We're trying to show children they can do things for themselves — even if it's just holding their head up longer." An adaptive crayon, secured with Velcro, allows a child who has difficulty grasping to color a picture. "Our aim for all children is to get them to function in their home and community to the best of their ability," she said. Many of the children constantly "have things done to them," such as feeding, but Cook strives to show the youngsters they "can control what's going on." For example, turning on a light may be difficult when coordination is lacking, but by practicing on a simple homemade push button which turns on a light or activates a toy, the goal eventually can be achieved. Students attend the school four days a week; on Friday staff members make monthly visits to the children's homes. There is a strong bond between the school and the parents. "We all want to work harder to see improvement in the child," Cook said. The staff often takes a learning tool, such as the push button, to the (See Victories, Page 12) Doug Catania, 2, colors with an adaptive crayon as he receives praise from Barb Beadleston, left, and his mother, Marilyn. Kids Connection expands since '81 Kids Connection serves 55 handicapped children each year. The youngsters are referred to the program through physicians, health screenings or the Infant Stimulation program at St. John's Hospital. After a referral, the child is evaluated and placed in one of three programs —home-based, center-based or integrated preschool. The Kids Connection/Developmental Center of Center Kansas has provided preschool handicapped education services at no cost to parents in four counties since 1981, according to Carolee Minor, director of rehabilitative services with the Occupational Center of Central Kansas Inc. Beginning in 1975, OCCK offered early childhood services in Salina with educational and developmental programs through a licensed preschool teacher. A speech therapist was available on a limited basis. About 20 children, ages 2 to 5, participated, but a fee was charged to the parents. In 1981, OCCK joined with the Central Kansas Cooperative in Education through an interagency agreement which merged their funds and allowed the program to expand. During that first year, 36 children were served, a speech pathologist was available full time, and more occupational and physical therapy was given, Minor said. Since the agreement, the services have been provided free. Through the home-based program, teachers and other professionals provide services in the child's home according to the youngster's needs. "The home-based program emphasizes the family as a major focus, but the family is involved in all of the programs as well," Minor said. The center-based program, now housed at Parsons School, was first located at the Grand Avenue United Methodist Church. When Parsons School was closing, the Salina School District offered the building to Kids Connection. In the fall of 1982, an integrated program was established at Schilling School after a relationship developed with the school district's Chapter 1 preschool there, Minor said. Handicapped children intermingle with non- handicapped children in the classroom. Morning and afternoon sessions are offered four days a week in both the center-based and integrated programs. Parent training, diagnostic evaluations and program planning occur on Fridays. Another integrated program began in 1984 at the Abilene Community Nursery School. Staff member Lori Challans assists Neil Frerking, 4. Stories by Cedlia Harris Photos by Scott Williams

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