All of our families have a different story, simply because each child is unique in their own wonderful way. But there is one thing that all of their stories have in common: an experience with The Center that is filled with warmth, professionalism and hope.
by Jacob’s Mom and Dad
The folks at The Center treated us as much as they treated Jacob. I cannot tell you how many times I sat talking to one of the therapists in tears, totally frustrated, convinced that things were never going to get better.
Jacob was the happiest baby, but he was a little slow to all the developmental milestones. When he started talking it sounded like he had a mouth full of marbles – so our first visit to The Center was directed to Jacob’s speech. At the time, we were not thinking about mood disorders or mental illness. We figured a few sessions with a speech therapist and we would be good to go.
The folks at The Center were not just “treating” Jacob’s speech, they were trying to help the whole kid. As I look back at those treatment notes now, I can see that they recognized some of the challenges Jacob would face. I can also recognize that they were educating us about those challenges as well. We just weren’t listening. As Jacob’s speech cleared up, we figured we were done. It was a long drive.
Jacob grew up. He was whip-smart, but his reactions to one thing or another would be grossly disproportionate. Those incidents would get Jacob into trouble. We approached each quirk or idiosyncrasy as a discrete issue to address. That piecemeal approach sufficed for a couple of years, but it felt like we were always moving backward. There came a point where Jacob just stopped participating in our attempts at treatment. We ended up back at The Center.
This time around, we knew we were dealing with something that was not likely to just go away. But, we did not know exactly what we were dealing with. For a long time, giving it a name seemed really important—not so much anymore. When we came back we were all in. No more piecemeal, no more fragmentation, all the people working with Jacob were going to be in the same place working in concert.
It is not as if our return immediately changed everything for Jacob. One thing changed though, he stopped fighting us on participating. The folks at The Center knew how to keep him engaged. They met Jacob right where he was and accepted him. At the time, Jacob was not being accepted anywhere else.
The folks at The Center treated us as much as they treated Jacob. This time we were listening. I cannot tell you how many times I sat talking to one of the therapists in tears, totally frustrated, convinced that things were never going to get better.
Our frustration and Jake’s frustration always came to a head at school. For a long time, we tried to change Jake to fit school. It became apparent that was never going to work. As we asked the school to find ways to accommodate Jacob we discovered that we had to accommodate him, too. The Center really helped us adjust our expectations. They taught us how to meet Jacob where he was. Jacob’s school never figured that out — they didn’t even really try.
The Center helped us define what Jacob needed to succeed. That helped us create an educational environment that did not make things worse. Once we reached some equilibrium on the educational front, The Center helped us identify experts, national experts, to help with the medication part. Prior to that, we had been burning through meds looking for a magic bullet that would bring back that happy kid. Wrong goal — bad results. The Center helped us define some med goals that were designed to maximize the benefit of the other therapies we were pursuing at The Center. That gave us a more useful point of reference to determine if we were moving in the right direction.
Once we were focusing our energy in the right places, we started to see some movement. That is where we are now. We are walking, slowly forward. There is a path in front of us. It is such a relief to have a path. I am not sure how far we will get, but I know Jake is getting better and better at meeting the expectations that we have for him.
We are getting better and better at having expectations that make sense.
He wants to be an occupational therapist. He wants to make others lives better the same way The Center has made his life — our lives — better. The Center is also feeding that dream of his, and we are eternally grateful that they have embraced his dream as well.
by Brooke Fermin
I love that walking into The Center is like walking into a friend’s home. From the front desk staff to the owner, to the therapists – everyone strives to do what is best for your child and you feel that to your core.
Our family moved to Michigan in the fall of 2013 from Minnesota. My son had a very full life of therapy after being diagnosed with autism at the age of three and we hoped to continue this in a new state, but were also apprehensive about starting over from square one.
I didn’t expect to feel the rush of excitement that I did after meeting with Molly and watching her interact with Samuel in a manner I had never experienced. She and Samuel hit it off right away and he happily clambered up the steps of the castle and down the slide exploring all the sensory and gross motor goodies the two gyms at The Center provide. Samuel has moderate autism and requires a big sensory diet to stay engaged in his world. Molly narrated what Samuel’s movements and reactions were communicating as he explored different activities and people in his space and I was riveted. In all my years of being his mother, I didn’t think I had ever seen his motives so clearly. I knew I had found a therapy home for my son and we were thrilled.
From that first evaluation with Molly to his twice-weekly visits now, Samuel grins and asks to go to his OT and SLP therapy appointments at The Center. I love that the therapists strive to keep consistency with their clients as Samuel has had the same therapists since he started weekly therapy in January of 2014. I love that my little boy – who’s been working long hours 5 days a week for 5 years – loves to “go play” when he’s visiting The Center for therapy and that play produces results. I love that walking into The Center is like walking into a friend’s home. From the front desk staff to the owner, to the therapists – everyone strives to do what is best for your child and you feel that to your core. I love that they make therapy play-based and follow the child’s desire and motivation. I love that they incorporate what we have been dealing with at home into their weekly therapy goals and then report on them promptly at the end of the session. The level of therapist collaboration also allows for seamless communication and increase in generalization as they work closely in their respective areas to bring about results.
Samuel’s therapist has such a passion for kids with autism and it shows. She stays on top of the research and helps our family pinpoint actions we can try at home to assuage Samuel’s sensory needs. I can say without hesitation that The Center is one of the best organizations, making Samuel – and our family – a top priority with his continued therapy needs.
by Victoria Haveman
I was so excited after we were done eating I wanted to scream right there in the restaurant “My kid just climbed a mountain!!!! Victory!” I wrote about this day in his journal so one day he can hear how proud I am of him.
Last week, I took Lincoln out to spend some money he’s been saving. He’s been learning about finances, so we discussed what he wanted to buy and how it was going to work. I explained that it was going to be busier than usual at Target and that afterward, he could decide whether he wanted to go to Chipotle for lunch or go home and eat instead.
He did awesome in Target!! The best ever! He knew what he wanted to buy and didn’t get upset by wanting something above his budget.
At lunch time he chose to eat at Chipotle. There weren’t any table and chairs left so we had to sit at the high-top tables with the fixed stools. I sat him as far away from the line of people as we could get, but he wanted to sit on the other side of me… which was RIGHT next to the busy line! He complained multiple times of their smells, sounds, and them being too close to him, but he talked to me and we resolved it together. He had a very hard time being a little too far away from the table because of the fixed stools, but we eventually came up with an idea on how he could eat comfortably. He ate his ENTIRE meal! He talked to me when he got frustrated, and when we got home he didn’t fall apart!
I was so excited after we were done eating I wanted to scream right there in the restaurant “my kid just climbed a mountain!!!! Victory!”
by Lauren Schut
Hi, my name is Lauren, and I’m blessed to be the mother to my triplet miracle babies. Our babies were born very prematurely, and our son Austin suffered severe bleeding in his brain as a result of being born so early. I was told that Austin would most likely be unable to walk or care for himself as he got older.
We began noticing a slight difference in muscle tone in his right hand when Austin was 6 months old, and we noticed that he was not reaching developmental milestones at the same rate as his triplet brother and sister. Austin had been involved in physical therapy and occupational therapy since he was discharged from the NICU, so we continued therapy, and continued to work even harder with him at home. He’s very determined, and has always worked very hard to reach developmental milestones, including his first unassisted steps when he was two and a half years old.
Austin entered early childhood special education preschool when he was just a few days shy of being three. That’s where we met Elise – Austin’s Occupational Therapist. One of Austin’s preschool field trips was a visit to The Center for Childhood Development, and we discovered that Elise was also a therapist at The Center!
Not only does Austin struggle with issues relating to Cerebral Palsy, he has additional challenges including Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder. My husband and I decided that we wanted to get Austin into therapy sessions with Elise at The Center because we had seen how well he responded to her at preschool.
Once Austin began attending sessions at The Center, we saw big changes! The biggest change we saw was in his level of confidence, and his ability to cope with situations that cause sensory overload and anxiety.
The Center is so different than any other place that Austin has received therapy! It’s a fun place that doesn’t look or feel medical in any way, and the care he has received is absolutely top notch! Elise works with the whole Austin, not on just one thing or another. She “gets” him, and encourages him to work toward being the best Austin that he can be.
Austin has continued therapy sessions with Elise over the last few years, and we are so pleased with the progress he has made! We are so grateful that we were introduced to The Center for Childhood Development!
by Kristen Lang
Our five-year-old daughter Maddy is one of the happiest little girls you will ever meet. One of the best things about her is that she can find pure joy in the simplest things. She cannot speak…
…but she has a very determined way to get her point across to those of us who know her well. She is so full of energy that the comment I hear most often from people when they meet her is “She is busy, isn’t she?”.
She was born after a normal, healthy pregnancy and delivery, but we soon realized she would face a lot of challenges. From birth, she had a congenital cataract leading her to require a contact lens and glasses, and an underdeveloped optic nerve causing decreased vision. By 6 months of age, I knew that there was something different about her. She didn’t seem to find interest in toys, had trouble sitting up and lifting her head. She rarely smiled or made eye contact. We started Early On when she was around 6 months, but it didn’t take us long to realize the services they provided weren’t enough to help her to “catch up”.
As she got older, we had a list of symptoms that included low muscle tone, poor balance, lack of eye contact, delayed speech (to name a few), but no name or diagnosis to go with it. We sought help from geneticists and neurodevelopment pediatricians, who couldn’t give us answers – other than she needed therapy. We were given a list of names and our search for help began.
Insurance companies didn’t want to help pay for therapy after a very limited number of sessions. They didn’t care that my girl couldn’t speak, or would only eat a very limited diet of pureed foods, or that she couldn’t walk. We knew she needed these therapies, the out-of-pocket costs added up fast. We visited many different therapy programs, trying to find the right fit for Maddy. Then we found the Center for Childhood Development – and our world changed.
We started by using up the little insurance benefit we had, and then we paid out-of-pocket for as many sessions as we could afford. Molly referred us to the Family Hope Foundation and we were able to qualify for a scholarship, which kept us going and was such a blessing.
Soon after that, a new law passed requiring insurance companies to cover therapy for Autism. It was The Center that recognized that Autism might be a fitting diagnosis for Maddy. I know many parents are afraid of the label, but that evaluation and diagnosis allowed Maddy to get the treatment and therapy she needed.
Right from the beginning, working with Molly and many of the other therapists there, we could tell that they just understood Maddy in a way we couldn’t yet. It was like they were speaking her language. We went to them feeling so overwhelmed wondering if we were doomed to spend our entire lives just bouncing her on our laps (because that is the only thing that made her happy back then).
Maddy has made a lot of progress in the 4 years she has been at The Center. I can’t even count the number of times I have cried happy tears there watching her. She started out as a little toddler who couldn’t figure out her own body in space – didn’t like to be touched much, and rarely smiled or made eye contact, and who had very little interest in others around her. She is now a very affectionate, loving little girl, who smiles and giggles and tries so hard to join in with the other kids in her own way. While she can’t speak verbally, through working with her Speech Language Pathologists, she is learning to use an iPad for communication, which has been so exciting.
The thing that still amazes me to this day about The Center is how each of the therapists truly understand each of the kids. We have worked with multiple therapists at different times and I am always impressed at how each of them are able to work with Maddy in a way that is meaningful to her. The Center has become not only a place for Maddy to get treatment, but it is also a place she looks forward to every week. She truly loves it and we couldn’t imagine finding a better place for our girl.
Kate Kreitzer McCoy
We are new to The Center but only have great things to say. We have been searching for services for 4 years and finally found a speech-language therapist that understands how to help us. We could not be happier with the services and all the staff. We love that there is a location in Holland too! I highly recommend The Center.
Tracy Murnan Stackhouse, Owner of Developmental FX
What a dedicated, talented, caring, and brilliant group of professionals! You all are transforming the lives of the children you serve!
by Elizabeth Guy
At 15 months, Justin began attending daycare. When I would pick him up, I could distinctly hear him down the hallway making his “ahhhh” singing sound while playing. He often seemed to be playing by himself while the other kids were gathered in a circle intently listening to a story.
On the playground, he would happily carry around a string from a pompon while other children would be engaged in more traditional activities. In the back of my mind, I wondered if he had some type of delay, but I wasn’t overly concerned. He was my first child and I wasn’t sure what to expect.
When Justin was two years old, his younger brother was born. We were so excited to have the family we had always dreamed of and pictured the boys playing together in our big yard. We envisioned them being the best of friends while engaging in fun family activities.
About six months later, my concerns about Justin were confirmed. My sister, who was Justin’s childcare provider at the time, expressed concern about Justin’s communication. Although he had a large vocabulary and spoke clearly, he was repeating words and phrases that he had heard previously, and would randomly insert them into a sentence that didn’t make sense. I did some internet research on speech delay and came across an article on Autism. It seemed to describe Justin’s behavior exactly! I was pretty sure that was his diagnosis, but we had to wait for a professional opinion. After expressing my concerns about Justin’s communication to his pediatrician, he suspected that Justin had Aspergers and referred us to Early On as well as a psychologist for further evaluation.
Justin was officially diagnosed with Autism and began attending Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE) in the morning and daycare in the afternoon. It was a tremendous struggle every day to get him dressed and on the school bus. Every morning was extremely frustrating and felt like torture for us both, yet Justin was unable to express why he was so frustrated. I knew there was something more we needed to do to help the situation, but I wasn’t sure where to turn. Justin’s psychologist had mentioned The Center for Childhood Development so we decided to check it out. At age 4, Justin began attending speech therapy sessions with Laura Allison at The Center and he truly enjoyed it! He happily carried around a picture of him and Laura together almost everywhere he went.
Justin continued to be frustrated in ECSE and at daycare, yet we continued to try and carry on with our busy schedule. Everything changed when Justin’s daycare suddenly announced that they were closing. We decided it was time for me to resign from the job that I had enjoyed so much. Being at home with the boys provided a consistent schedule, and within a couple of months, both boys were potty trained. This was a huge success for Justin! Justin’s ECSE teacher said he was expressing less frustration in school and recommended him for Kindergarten.
That summer, Justin began attending Occupational Therapy (OT) sessions at The Center where he practiced independence with his socks and shoes and even learned to ride a bike with training wheels! Since starting school full-time and continuing his weekly therapy sessions, Justin has made tremendous progress both personally and academically. He often talks about going to college to further explore his interest in “fixing lights”.
We don’t know what challenges we will experience in the future, however, we have learned to slow down and take everything one day at a time. Justin has been such an inspiration to our family and has taught us to take note of the minute details regarding sights and sounds around us that we would ordinarily have missed. We have learned to increase our patience and acceptance of others and realize that everyone tries their best in order to make their own unique situation work for them.
by Lisa Koedyker
My son Ory has grown so much over the last year and a half, and we owe a lot of that growth to The Center! Here’s a little of our story: Ory is a very smart, sweet, & fun little boy. He loves cars, Disney World, chicken nuggets, riding his Skuut, playing outside, numbers…
…and learning! We always knew our son was a sensitive little guy, even from a young age. He would show signs of discomfort when he heard others around him cry, laugh, cheer, or even cough loudly. We just thought it was something he would outgrow. Then, we attempted preschool in the fall of 2014. We pulled him out after three weeks, because he was having such a hard time. After doing tons of research online, I discovered The Center for Childhood Development.
I contacted them through their website and was quickly contacted to set up an appointment for an evaluation. We met with our therapist, Jennifer Rewa, and soon began going to weekly Occupational Therapy (OT) sessions with her. Ory began trusting Jennifer, trying new things, playing with her, and just having fun during his therapy. All the while, we started noticing improvements at home.
A few months after working with Ory, Jennifer suggested that we get another evaluation, and it was at that time (almost a year ago), that Ory was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum and with anxiety. The diagnosis honestly didn’t scare us. Our little guy was the same little guy! We had already observed big changes in him through his therapy, and would continue to do the same things. Instead of being scared of other kids, he started playing near/with them. He became buddies with another little boy there, and they invited each other to their 5th birthday parties this past summer. That is another thing…he actually wanted to have a birthday party, something that often would scare him. We were thrilled! He participated in a summer social group, and it was great to see them having fun together, while working through things they each needed help with. We found an amazing school, and Ory went to a few summer school classes to get him ready for the fall. This past fall, Ory started Young 5’s, and there was NO tears on his first day.
When we look back on when we first found this amazing place and his wonderful therapists, we barely recognize us, or Ory. We were all so scared at back then. But now Ory is thriving in school and is ready for Kindergarten in the fall. He’s a great big brother to his little sister and he loves playing with other kids. Everyone who knew him before comments on how much he has grown. He still has some struggles to overcome, but I know that with the Center for Childhood Development as our partner, Ory will be successful!
We feel like we have our life back and are enjoying our family. Thank you so much!!!!!
by Annah’s Dad
I recently added a new term to my vocabulary. The term is “signature story”. A signature story tells about an event in your life that affects who you are today. The birth of our daughter is one of my families’ signature stories.
After the 20 week ultrasound – we never expected our baby to live – she had a pre-natal condition that always gets worse, and is always fatal. After walking and sobbing our way through some of the local cemeteries; after looking at caskets that were heartbreakingly small, a miracle happened – our fourth or fifth ultrasound revealed that our babies’ never reversing, always fatal, prenatal condition that was incompatible with life – reversed.
A few months later, on December 11, 2000, Annah Rose Huisman was born – alive – a few moments later, we found out she had Down syndrome.
When Annah was little, we couldn’t stop focusing on her disabilities. Over the years, even though the gap between her and her peers continues to widen, we have learned to focus more on Annah’s abilities.
In a lot of ways, she is a typical teenager. She plays soccer, she takes ballet lessons, and she is involved in her church youth group. But when you meet Annah, you will probably conclude that she has special needs because of her appearance. You will say to yourself, “I think that girl has Down syndrome”.
You will also quickly discover that Annah wants to engage you in conversation. She is very sociable. She will want to know your name. She will want you to know her name. She will want to tell you she is a teenager. There is a good chance that you will like her because she will find a way to make you laugh, to brighten your day, she will cause you to feel good about yourself, and she will bring out the best in you.
You will also immediately realize that it is difficult to understand Annah’s speech. You will understand some of the words that she says, but for some of the time, you won’t have any idea what she is saying. Curiosity and kindness will cause you to ask her “What did you say?”. Annah will repeat herself, but if you don’t understand her the second time, you will most likely politely nod your head, smile, and start to think, “How do I politely get away from this little girl that I can’t understand?”.
However, Annah has much more to tell you, much more to ask you, and much more love to give to you if you are patient with her. Most people are not that patient. Most adults are not that patient. Most students are not that patient. Most middle-schoolers are not that patient. A few are, but most are not.
One of Annah’s greatest strengths is her sociability. Her genuine love for people and her ability to celebrate the smallest accomplishment of yours with a high five. Something as simple as having a birthday in the same month as her birthday will be met with an enthusiastic “Awesome!”.
One of Annah’s biggest barriers to establishing meaningful relationships – where she can give and receive love, be accepted by her peers, and multiply the love for life that she has within her, is the intelligibility of her speech, or, more precisely, the lack of intelligibility of her speech.
Our insurance company doesn’t cover any speech therapy because speech therapy is provided by the school. However, when you get to middle school, speech therapy is greatly reduced compared to elementary. We believe the next few years are Annah’s window of opportunity to improve her communication skills for the rest of her life. The better her communication skills, the stronger her relationships. The stronger her relationships, the more the world gets to receive her unbridled joy and love of life. The world needs what Annah has to offer….but the world won’t receive it to its’ fullest measure if people walk away from her too quickly because they can’t understand what she is saying.
Annah’s time at The Center has not only allowed our family to be optimistic that Annah, with clearer speech, could not only have better relationships with her peers, but also creates the possibility that because of a friendship with Annah – Annah’s peers would become better people.
We believe, that with the speech therapy Annah has received, that it’s possible that in the next four years, there will be high school students who will look back on their life and be able to say, “one of my signature stories is my friendship with Annah Huisman.” – and that will, in part, be due to the time and dedication from the therapists at The Center for Childhood Development.
On behalf of Annah Huisman’s family, we thank you for your time and commitment to our daughter. Thank you for changing her life and changing the world.
Four of my children just finished the AIT program at The Center. My one son had very little words or expressions for his feelings and after only two weeks is constantly talking to us about things that are going on around him. We have been with The Center for many other programs and have had nothing but positive come from being there.