The Children's Institute Blog

Clinician Spotlight: Kathleen Conley, Audiologist

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

Today, as we continue to mark Better Speech & Hearing Month, we asked a few questions of Kathleen Conley, audiologist at The Children's Institute.

When did you start working in your field?
August 1981

When did you start working at The Children’s Institute? I am not 100% sure since it has been a long time. I believe in the early 1990’s.
I have always been a consultant initially here 1 day a week when there were adults and children. As the needs of the Institute changed, my work schedule changed. After the Adult rehab moved, I worked ½ day a week.

Where did you grow up? Pittsburgh, specifically Forest Hills

As a child, what did you want to be? I changed my mind several times on that subject. Pediatrician, Teacher and Architect.

What did your high-school guidance counselor say you should do for a living? I know I took aptitude testing but don’t recall the answer.

Where did you go to college? West Virginia University for B.S. in Speech Pathology and Audiology and M.S in Audiology also from WVU.

Did you do any post-grad work and, if so, where did you attend and what did you study?
Like Pharmacy and PT, Audiology has become a clinical doctorate profession. For those of us already practicing you had to do online classes or distance learning to get the doctorate. The amount of coursework based on your experience and it was only available from 4 universities. I obtained my Au.D through AT Still in March 2005.

What inspired you to go into your field?
I could have graduated HS early but instead took ½ day of classes and work/study as a “house parent” at WPSD – Western PA School for the Deaf in Edgewood. It involved being there from 2pm to 7-8pm for pre-school deaf children who lived there during the week. You were there Monday - Thursday from the end of the class time through putting them to bed.

What do you like most about your job?
Majority of time you are having an immediate impact on a persons life in a positive way if they have hearing or balance problems. Directing individual needs to medical or audiological intervention to improve their quality of life. Educating others (family members of patient) on hearing loss and balance problems to yield positive outcomes.

What do you like about Pittsburgh? 4 seasons and variety of topography. I do wish winter was a little bit shorter though.

Do you have any pets? Yes -- a Schnoodle named Jack.

Do you have any hobbies?  Outdoor activities such as biking/kayaking/gardening. I enjoy music but don’t participate in that as much as I used to.

What is your favorite sports team? ALL Pittsburgh sports teams. Grandfather listened to Pirate games on radio religiously. Parents were Steelers season ticket holders since the days before 3 Rivers when they played at Pitt stadium. Penguins -- used to attend regularly in high school when they wore Blue and I could afford to go the games.

Who is your favorite musician? Eclectic taste too many to pick one! (country/blues/rock/pop/folk/oldies/classical) Favorite is Motown sounds of Temptations

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose? Power of healing

If you were given a $1 million check to give to one group or charity – other than The Children’s Institute – who would get it? Why? Due to growing inequity in society a local organization that uses funds well to assist the least fortunate. Would have to do some research on the subject; Habitat for Humanity or Catholic Charity

If you could meet any historical figure, living or dead, who would you choose to meet? So many great people and minds one would not be enough! I wouldn’t want to live in the Renaissance time period but meeting both Michaelangelo and Leonardo DaVinci in the same room..what conversation and inspiration.


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.

First stop – teacher Christen Negich. At first, there is silence as Luke works to hand her a small package.

“Type it in,” Russell says, guiding him.

“I have a delivery for you,” Luke says, through his device.

Russell said the weekly task, a part of Luke’s work with the school’s JobSpan program, is multi-faceted for Luke, who is in his first year at The Day School.

“It’s one of his goals – to learn his way around, but also to work on his driving skills, plus the communication skills,” Russell said. “The navigation, he does very well. It’s about locating places, because the building is brand-new to him. And he has to position himself, when delivering mail, in just such a way.”

Watching Luke almost imitate a parallel-parking job while moving his wheelchair up to a wall-mounted mailbox, it’s clear this is no easy task for the teenager.

Lisa Paglia, a community-based instruction facilitator in the program, says it’s all part of the bigger plan, which teaches kids like Luke skills they can use once they graduate.

“Our students are working on building in-house jobs skills, and out in the community volunteering with community-based instruction coaches, and The Day School assists them in building a strong skill set that will help them be successful at their day programs,” she said. “And it will assist the staff at the day programs knowing that our students are prepared.”


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.

Where did you go to college? Did you do any post-grad work and, if so, where did you attend and what did you study? I went to West Virginia University for undergrad studying speech pathology and audiology and then I attended Clarion University for my Masters degree in Speech-Language Pathology.

What inspired you to go into your field? My mother is a speech-language pathologist and audiologist. She owns a speech and hearing business so I guess I was always surrounded by it. My cousin has a severe phonological disorder and I watched my mom improve her intelligibility greatly which was really cool to me. I always knew I wanted to work with people and I started doing more observations with my mom and her co-workers and decided this was the field for me.

What do you like most about your job?  I love making connections with the children I treat and their families. Seeing their progress makes the job worth it. I also work with pretty awesome people (shout out to Bridgeville!)

What do you like about Pittsburgh? I am a huge foodie and I feel if you love to eat Pittsburgh is the place to be. Pittsburgh has good vibes and friendly people, almost like a small town feel in a city. And our sport teams!
Do you have any pets? Yes! 1 pup her name is Zuzu. She is a 2 year old cavachon (Cavalier King Charles Spaniel x Bichon Frise)

Do you have any hobbies? I enjoy trying new restaurants and breweries around the city, traveling, working out at Push 40 Fitness, skiing in the winter and going on adventures with Zuzu (my pup).

Do you want to give shout-outs to any family – nuclear or otherwise – in the area? Shout out to my fiancé, Ben.Thanks for putting up with me!

What is your favorite sports team? Love WVU football and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Who is your favorite musician? I don’t have a favorite musician per say…I’m bipolar when it comes to music and it depends on my mood. I’m really into 50’s and 60’s genre right now because the band we booked for our wedding plays only 50’s and 60’s music haha. I also can’t get enough of Card B’s new album Invasion of Privacy at the moment.

If you could have any superpower, what would you choose? The power to heal (both physical and emotional healing)

If you were given a $1 million check to give to one group or charity – other than The Children’s Institute – who would get it? Why? I would give it to cancer research, specifically the Hillman Cancer Center. My aunt recently passed away and that is where she received her care and participated in clinical trials. They were really good to her.

If you could meet any historical figure, living or dead, who would you choose to meet? Barbara Walters. I had a weird obsession (and still do) with the show 20/20 on ABC  as a child and loved Barbara Walters’ interviews. She’s my girl.  


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.

“That was another sign – they’re always hungry,” Dianna said.

Now 13 and in a specialized school, Dianna and the twins have found the help and counsel they need through The Children’s Institute’s care coordination program. A doctor in the state Department of Developmental Services pointed her in our direction.

“She said, You’re the perfect candidate for the Prader-Willi care coordination program in Pittsburgh – are you interested?” Dianna said. “I’ve been with the program for four months and it’s been phenomenal – Lucy has helped in so many ways.”

She’s talking about Lucy Krut, a registered nurse and PWS care coordinator. Lucy assists families with obtaining appropriate medical care related to Prader-Willi in their community. When a teacher at the twins’ previous school threatened to withhold breakfast from Stephen because she said he needed to brush his teeth – a saliva-filled mouth is a commonly misunderstood side-effect of Prader-Willi – Dianna called Lucy.

“She’s not afraid to call meetings. She’ll call the school,” Dianna said. “She loves her kids with Prader-Willi syndrome and she takes care of the parents.”

“I believe families are relieved to be able to speak to someone who understands the true complexity of Prader-Willi syndrome and understands their very real struggles in trying to obtain appropriate services for their loved ones,” Lucy said, in response. “Being present as a co-advocate for our clients and as an ally for their parents and caretakers provides support and understanding that is difficult to come by for most of our families.”

“My goal is to get them to be as independent as they can, but I am all they have,” Dianna said. “The future scares me for them. They’re great, great kids. They’re the most lovable little guys ever. I want them to be independent, as much as they can.”

“Every day’s a struggle, I’m not going to lie,” she added. “I’m a single mom. I have to wear a lot of hats. Things aren’t easy at all. But it helps that I have Lucy – and services.”


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 regular meets and treats Katie.

“We work on dressing, hygiene, and simply a sense of independence,” Barb said. “But what’s more important is the routine of it. That’s what Katie knows – ‘teach me a new routine.’”

Part of that is desensitization. Katie has highly sensitive feet, which makes certain activities difficult. Barb has worked on routines for keeping on socks and shoes, as well as brushing Katie’s feet or putting them in a bowl of uncooked rice to build her levels of comfort.

“She keeps the socks on the whole lesson now – it’s huge,” Christy said.

Those small victories have led to larger victories. Mom keeps a journal of Katie’s responses to certain situations or feelings, which has led to less intense meltdowns. Katie’s also getting an AAC device to help her communicate.

Katie’s younger sister, Madelyn, has special needs, too. That’s a tall order for Julianna, 8, the eldest child.

“Julianna is great with both of them – she was meant to be a sister of a special needs child,” Christy said. “She loves to tell her friends about autism and what it means. She’s a perfect, little example of autism awareness.”

Katie also has benefitted from learning to swim at The Children’s Institute – a major achievement considering nine out of 10 accidental deaths of children with autism occur due to drowning. In one of her early sessions, therapist Blythe Westendorf let Katie dunk her head under the water.

“I was horrified and Blythe was, like, ‘Christy, she needs to learn to come back up,’” Christy said. “Now, we take her swimming all summer.”

Again, Barb credits routine.

“Her routines and daily structure have helped her grow,” she said. “Now, she’s even started doing chores around the house – wiping down the table after dinner, folding towels, things like that.”

Christy says it simply.

“This has been life-changing for us.”


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.

She will be recognized tonight for her accomplishments, when Pittsburgh Technology Council names its CIO of the Year. Sharon is nominated as CIO of the Year in the nonprofit category. But she says she shares her nomination with the people of The Children’s Institute.

“That technology piece is always being considered here – and I think that speaks to our board, our administration, our IT team and our users,” she said. “Through it all, there’s never been a time where someone on the board, where someone in the administration, said no to technology, or said, ‘Let’s take two steps back.’”

To illustrate, Sharon pointed to our work with telepresence, which facilitates everything from Day School IEPs to medical sessions to Project STAR family planning meetings, and more. Also, she said enthusiastically, a school information system will launch at the start of the next school year.

“I think it’s exciting work – and I’ve had great mentors along the way,” Sharon said.

That was particularly relevant to her as a woman, a group typically under-represented in high-tech fields. Sharon remembers one mentor, Zona Vito, telling her when she was a young student at her vocational school about working mostly among men in high-tech.

“Women traditionally were not in the computer industry – she was my inspiration,” Sharon said. “At her job, they actually called her ‘George.’ It wasn’t acceptable for women to be in the field.”

To that end, Sharon said she’s pleased tonight’s event benefits Red Chair, a group that tries to level the playing field for women in high-tech sectors.

Steve Wirth, president and CEO of synergIT Inc., a Pittsburgh firm, called Sharon a strong leader for her team who stresses accountability and delivering projects on time and on budget.

“I believe this is the perfect forum for her to be recognized and honored for her years of dedication, vision and passion for the success of The Children’s Institute of Pittsburgh,” he wrote, in his nominating letter to Pittsburgh Technology Council. “She upholds a standard of excellence that is respected and appreciated throughout the community.”

Finalists in tonight’s event were judged by a committee of Pittsburgh Technology Council members and the Greater Pittsburgh CIO Group.

“Pittsburgh is home to some of the brightest tech minds in the world leading technology strategies across companies of all sizes and industries,” said tech council president and CEO Audrey Russo. “It is important to take a night to celebrate their accomplishments, innovation and leadership. Congratulations to the finalists and winners.”


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.

Ollie was the pilot for the program, taking to swimming therapy three times a week for 12 weeks. That might sound like a lot but it wasn’t until Week Seven that Ollie started to flourish. And did he flourish! He learned to doggie-paddle, float on his back when tired, stand and walk near poolside (instead of running or jumping into water without warning), and get in and out of the pool safely.

“None of those things could he do before,” said Blythe, who is developing the program as part of her doctoral project.

“He’s so drawn to the water but he has no sense of danger,” Amanda – who works for The Children’s Institute – added. “The number one driver for this was safety.”

Today, Ollie swims each week at an indoor pool and, to watch him swim here at The Children’s Institute, you would never know he previously couldn’t function well in water.

Blythe and Amanda both said the program, for which Blythe is seeking funding, meets a huge need in the community.

“I’ve never been able to find a program in the Pittsburgh area,” Amanda said. “I don’t feel you can take a child with no experience and extra challenges to a typical swim class. When Blythe asked us about this program, I was like, ‘YEAH!’”

“In this area, there are no swimming programs that are tailored for kids with special needs – it meets a need that’s pretty robust,” Blythe said.

For at least one young kid with autism, the results speak for themselves.

“I hope this gets the word out – this is an essential program,” Amanda said. “I think a lot of parents are going to want to be part of this.”

Venture Outdoors is pretty impressed, too. The Pittsburgh-based organization has teamed with The Children’s Institute since 2015 to provide adaptive kayaking courses here for kids and young adults with special needs.

“By participating in our adaptive kayaking program, children can overcome their fears about the water, understand and prepare for being around water, and improve social skills and teamwork with peers,” Program Director Ian Brown said. “We believe it is vitally important that everyone, including those on the autism spectrum, has the opportunity to experience how fun and valuable outdoor recreation can be.”


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...

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