What Makes Us So Special?
A Chance To Grow is a special place for many reasons, not the least of which is our Turnquist Child Enrichment Center, that primarily serves young families that require county assistance to receive childcare services.
Turnquist consists of age-specific rooms for infants, toddlers and on up to preschool age. In addition to implementing a developmentally appropriate curriculum, Turnquist teachers are responsible for completing developmental assessments for each child every two months.
“Most times, we [the teachers] are the first to notice any social, verbal or motor skill issues,” says Sami, an infant room teacher of three years. “If a child isn’t meeting certain developmental milestones, we notify the parents that we’ve identified an issue and recommend they be referred to our Clinics team. Parents are almost always OK with an observation, and quite often say that they’ve seen the same issues at home, but didn’t know how to address them.”
Depending on the nature of the referral, an Occupational Therapist (OT) or Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) will observe the child in their classroom, alongside the Turnquist teacher. This provides a safe, familiar space for the child, and allows our therapists and teachers the opportunity to discuss whether evaluation and treatment would best address the child’s needs. Once an evaluation is complete and a care plan is established, a child will receive 1-3 therapy sessions per week, with the teacher available to receive additional instructions from the therapist about ways to continue the treatment. The teacher also serves as the intermediary between therapist and parent, providing progress reports and suggestions for therapy at home.
“Working with the therapists is really nice,” says Sami, “especially when they show us how to do certain techniques. It makes a big difference that the teachers know how to help them, not just the therapists, because that means the child is getting the therapies they need all day, not just during one or two sessions. Parents really appreciate the convenience, they don’t have to take time out of their work days and it makes their lives a lot easier.”
Michelle Koyama, MA OTR/L, ACTG’s Assistant Director of Clinical Services, knows that this process is only possible with great communication from everyone involved. “Normally, these families wouldn’t have access to additional therapies, but we’re able to take that barrier away because we are able to fluidly communicate with the teachers in Turnquist,” she says. “We have a shared philosophy and see things through a developmental and trauma-informed model. We’re on the same page so it makes our communication very easy.”
Presently, 20 out of 32 children at Turnquist are receiving OT or SLP services. The need for these services has grown substantially in the wake of the COVID pandemic, and has often led to other areas of concern, including vision and auditory issues. Luckily, we offer vision and hearing screenings as well, and give parents the option to allow their child’s Turnquist teacher to represent their child in the exam room. Not only does this allow for the most optimal treatment schedule for the child (and parent), it provides our doctors with additional insight into their development, because they’re hearing it directly from the person that interacts with them in the early learning setting.
“During the pandemic, seeing became flat,” says ACTG’s Optometrist, Dr. Shelby May, OD. “The world got small and children of all ages stayed in the same loop. They didn’t go to the grocery store, take vacations or have other novel experiences. The world wasn’t big enough for these children to grow properly, and we’ve seen milestone delay amplify.”
From infants unable to hold their heads up (motor skills), to toddlers throwing tantrums (self-regulation), and preschoolers unwilling to give up screen time (attention), the effects of COVID are everywhere. The therapists and teachers at ACTG, however, are uniquely prepared to help these children. “Early intervention is so important,” says Sophie Reynolds, MS, OTR/L. “It’s really cool that our clinic is able to intervene at such early ages, where change can be made quickly because we can get to them so soon.”
Dr. May sees several Turnquist children in her clinic, and despite the difficult environmental factors, she says that she’s now starting to see a rebound effect. “Kids are picking back up really fast. If we give them the right tools, all those skills come back. Their brains didn’t change, they always had the capability, they were just missing the experience - we have to give them the right stimulus to grow.”
Shania said that Larico had been to other daycares, but they didn’t provide the type of communication, support or sense of community that she wanted. “Now when they wake up, they’re both excited to go to school and to see their teachers and therapists. They really love it here, and I do too.”
The Turnquist Child Enrichment Center and Clinical Services are amazing resources for young parents striving to provide the best foundation for their children. But more importantly, the community that our teachers and therapists cultivate is what sets A Chance To Grow apart from any other daycare, school or clinic in the Twin Cities.
“My kids wouldn’t be where they are today without the Turnquist teachers and the other services. It’s great that everything and everyone is in one building,” says Shania. “You can’t find a place like this anywhere else.”
>> Click here to be redirected back to ACTG's Winter Newsletter
Seeing the Invisible Problem
For as long as he can remember, Samson has had vision problems. When he was young, he was always tripping over things, misjudging distances. He was given glasses at an early age, but even with them, he had trouble seeing.
He gave up reading for pleasure, and instead turned to video games, playing repetitive games whose patterns he could remember so he didn’t have to track with his eyes so much.
But Samson is a smart guy with a wide range of interests and a determination to get ahead. Despite his reading problems, he graduated from a rigorous private school and got a BA from the University of Minnesota. He loves theatre and dance, history and politics. He is fluent in a second language, Spanish, and having visited Spain twice, his long-term goal is to move there.
But none of these accomplishments came easily. He says his vision issues were an “invisible problem” that bedeviled his teachers and friends – everyone knew he was smart, but couldn’t understand why he had trouble keeping up with his work. He has loving, concerned parents who did everything they could think of to help him, encouraging him, taking him to specialists, including regular eye doctor visits. Optometrists would prescribe glasses, but his problems persisted. As Samson discovered when he came to A Chance To Grow’s Vision Clinic, the problem was, they were focusing only on his eyes, not on the eye/brain connection that was at the root of his problem.
When Samson’s mother saw the evidence, she cried. It was the first time in Samson’s 31 years that anyone could show her what was wrong.
With the information generated by the program, Dr. May was able to diagnose Samson with Oculomotor Dysfunction and Accommodative Excess, meaning his eyes have difficulty tracking, and he overcompensates to correct. She also found that his glasses prescription is anisometric,
meaning he has a large difference in the prescription for each eye. Those issues have made it very difficult for his two eyes to develop in a way that worked together. It also profoundly affects his depth perception.
This explains so much of what Samson has experienced. When eyes can’t work together, sustained attention for near tasks, like reading, are straining and exhausting. Ultimately vision is uncomfortable and demotivating, affecting vision-driven tasks. That’s basically everything: reading, driving, learning, even walking around and knowing where you are in space depend on those skills.
Dr. May prescribed eye exercises, which Samson has been doing regularly at home, as well as sessions on equipment in the office. The plan is based on very careful goal setting that emphasizes mastery of individual skills. When each skill is mastered, Dr. May and Samson will carefully put them together, giving Samson control of his system as a whole. After that, it’s just continued practice and maintenance. “The whole process is Samson’s work,” says Dr. May, “I’m just facilitating and giving him the best tools I have for him to regain control.”
Samson reports that he never realized his eyes were jumping so much. Since beginning his vision therapy, he says he can see things much better. He is hoping one day soon, he will be able to drive, and become more independent. He says, “Tell people it’s important to ask questions and look at things differently, find someone who will look for deeper issues. It wasn’t about the eye itself, it was about the eye/brain connection.”