Tag Archives: Mental Health

Out and about: Visiting the Children’s Developmental Center

Open House at the Children's Developmental Center.

As anyone in my office (or my family) will tell you, I spend way too many hours with my eyes glued to my laptop screen. So I appreciate a good excuse to escape the virtual world and drop into the real one.

Last week I said “yes” to an invitation to attend an open house at the newly opened Children’s Developmental Center at Easter Seals Southwest Human Development in Phoenix. This place, despite its big name, is all about little people. Specifically about understanding little people and what makes them tick.

The center is staffed by a team of professionals — in medicine, psychology, physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and more — who combine their expertise to evaluate children for developmental delays or disabilities and collaborate to recommend interventions.

I stepped off the elevator to a spacious area with cheerful, lemon-colored walls above wooden pegboard paneling. A huge fish tank commanded attention in a waiting area at one end of the room, where pint-sized tables and chairs and a variety of toys welcomed young visitors.

I met people I have read about and admired for years, including Ginger Ward (founder of Southwest Human Development) and Daniel B. Kessler, M.D., a developmental and behavioral pediatrician with a long history at St. Joseph’s Hospital & Medical Center who was recently named medical director of the Children’s Developmental Center. I met Terrence Matteo, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist and director of the Children’s Developmental Center, and had a chance to thank him for an article he wrote for our October magazine on helping babies sleep.

A sign pointed visitors down the hallway to “The playrooms.” The center has four, each of which can be set up in specific ways to help the experts make assessments for issues that may be impeding a child’s physical, intellectual, emotional or social development.

The first playroom was set up to evaluate children for autism. “What do you look for?” I asked.

“We look at the level of development of their play,” Matteo told me. “Are they rigid in their play? Are they using items in a way not intended? Are they banging cars together [instead of “driving” them around the room]? Are they throwing the plates? Are they able to request toys? What’s their level of social communication?” Such sessions are videotaped from a small, dark room behind a one-way glass window so that the multi-disciplinarian team of professionals can work together to make an assessment, and offer recommendations to the parents.

Another playroom was set up for feeding evaluations. Children who are referred to the center for such observation may be exhibiting anything from difficulty swallowing to muscle-related speech impediments. This room also has a one-way mirror behind which several professionals observe parents and their children interact.

Lorenzo Castillo enjoys playing in the room set up as a kitchen. He visited the open house with his grandmother, Veronica Castillo of Phoenix.

The room is set up like a kitchen — with small tables and chairs, toy appliances and a variety of plastic foods scattered about on tabletops and counters. The experts watch to see what happens. Does the child show interest or apathy? Does the child play with the pretend food or avoid touching it? Does the parent engage in play, guiding it with inquisitive comments and gestures, or sit passively and watch? The smallest observations can help the professionals piece together the puzzle to help them understand why some children do not enjoy the process of eating and do not grow and thrive as they should.

Plastic food set out for a feeding assessment. "Children learn to eat through play," Matteo says.

Before they even get to this room, the family has undergone a home visit by one of the center’s professionals so that interactions can be observed in the context of comfortable surroundings.

“With babies and young children, everything is so intertwined — parent, child, society, environment,” Matteo says. “You don’t want to look at the child in isolation.”

This is is a time-intensive, ideal, “best practices” approach to early childhood development assessment and intervention — and it’s not cheap. That’s where Development Director Laura Chasko comes in. It is her job it is to seek grants and donations to support this work.

The center works with families to avoid or minimize out-of-pocket expenses through qualification for primary and secondary insurance reimbursement and DDD, AzEIP, or school district eligibility. Any out-of-pocket expenses are reviewed under a sliding fee scale consideration.

“Our goal is to serve 300 families each year,” Laura told me. Right now, as they work to get the word out, there is not even a waiting list.

Learn more about the center’s approach and scope of services here. And if you are worried about your child’s development or behavior, contact the center at 602-468-3430 or email CDcenter@swhd.org.

Southwest Human Development is Arizona’s largest nonprofit child development agency, providing programs and support for more than 135,000 children ages birth to 5 and their families. In addition to the Children’s Developmental Center, the organization provides programs including the  A.D.A.P.T Shop, the Birth to Five Helpline (which offers free advice 24/7), the Good Fit Counseling Center and more.

Photos by Daniel Friedman


Photographing grieving fathers

A guest blog by Raising Arizona Kids staff photographer Dan Friedman

For our June issue, I photographed four dads who had lost children for Mary Ann Bashaw’s story, “Fathers Reflect on Grief.” I wasn’t sure how the four dads would react to me tracking them down by email and telephone to make arrangements to take their pictures. Maybe they wouldn’t even want their pictures taken.

Support from the MISS Foundation has helped these dads cope with their grief. They understand that sharing their stories can be beneficial to others who are struggling with loss — or know someone who is.

With each of the dads, the grief was palpable. These photo sessions were different from any others I have done for the magazine, where the subjects often want the publicity an article with photos will bring them.

Being the photographer for Raising Arizona Kids involves traveling around the Valley taking pictures of people I am meeting for the first time, intruding on their lives for a few minutes and then leaving with an image that hopefully makes sense to our readers and helps me keep my job.

I chat with people to put them at ease while I set up my lights or look around their house for a suitable spot to take a picture. But this was different. I wondered what I would say to the four guys whose children died. Telling them I’m sorry about their loss seemed ill-suited to the situation. Who was I to tell them I was sorry? I was just there to take a picture that would appeal to our readers.

I settled on telling them I appreciated their taking the time to share their stories with our readers, who would be surely benefit. This seemed the most accurate and genuine.

The first dad I photographed was Jimmy Carrauthers. He is also a photographer, so it was easy to talk about photography with him while I was setting up lights. While I was checking my exposure, his phone rang so I have this photo of him holding the photo of his late stepson, Edwin, while he is talking on the phone. Sometimes the emotional moments I hope to capture are interrupted with mundane moments.

Jacob Christen Blain’s son Leo died when he was just eight days old. Jacob preferred to meet at his workplace, which meant the setting was not as personal a space in which to photograph him. I had to find a way to remove the setting. A large stucco wall worked out the best. Ironically, the stark background tells the story because Leo died so young and there aren’t dozens of photos or personal effects to include in the photograph.

Two of the houses I went to for the story were full of photographs. Photos are so ubiquitous in our culture, whether printed or electronic, that our memories are tied up in them. But for Jimmy, his tattoo was obviously the best way to tell his story. The illustration of his stepson is now a permanent part of his body.

Mark Eide had a giant photo of his family on vacation in Hawaii above his mantle. It includes his son Zack and daughter Katie, who died in a car accident in 2009. There many smaller photos around the house and on the memorial Facebook pages for Katie and Zack. The urns with their ashes were on a table nearby but I could hardly bring myself to look at, much less photograph, them.

Jason Freiwald had a life-size photo of his son Braden as well as dozens of other photos around the house but this one was his favorite. It made it easier for me since I needed to have some variety in my pictures to illustrate the story. If I were in Jason’s place could I look at a life-size photo of my dead child? I was amazed how composed and comfortable all four dads were to work with. I don’t know how they did it. But that is what I was photographing, four dads being composed and comfortable about sharing their loss. — Dan Friedman

The June story about grieving fathers was third in a four-part series we are running this year called “Finding Purpose in Grief.” Following are links to all three stories; the fourthwill be published in November. — Karen

The MISS Foundation Offers a Light at the End of Life’s Darkest Tunnel

When Birth and Death Merge

“Fathers Reflect on Grief”

Feeling fat

When she baked pies, my mother always saved a small piece of pie crust dough just for me. She’d put it into a small aluminum foil pan (the size of a single pot pie). She’d brush it with melted butter and sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar. She’d bake it with the regular pies, pulling it out a bit early so it didn’t burn.

Crisco and white flour. Butter, sugar and cinnamon. I can’t imagine eating something like that now; I’m much more health-conscious in middle age than I was as a child. But I thought about those warm slivers of buttery, cinnamon-y goodness this morning, as I toasted a two-day old bran muffin for breakfast. On a whim, I slathered some (zero grams trans fat) canola oil margarine on the warm pieces, then sprinkled some cinnamon sugar on top.

And I wondered when — and why — the joy of eating my childhood treat was ruined for me.

I wondered again this afternoon, when I listened to multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint’s podcast interview with Dena Cabrera, Psy.D., a psychologist at Remuda Ranch, which specializes in the treatment of eating disorders.

At some point in the lives of many girls and young women, food stops being a source of pleasure, comfort and joy. It becomes the enemy. It becomes the reason nothing else goes right in life. It contributes to self-loathing, insatiable perfectionism, anxiety and fear. And for some women, it stays that way, to one degree or another, for years. Even decades.

I was one of those young women. From the moment an elementary school classmate remarked that “you have big legs” I became self-conscious about my weight. Food became a source of shame and guilt. Enjoying it was something that I (as a person with “big legs”) was not entitled to experience.

When I got to high school, I refused to eat in public. I never ate lunch at school. I didn’t touch the food at parties. At home, I nibbled at meals. But when I was alone, I slammed down the food. It got worse when I went to college. One of my roommate would go for days without eating and then, when it became too much, she’d drag me out with her for fast-food binges. At one point in my young adult life I weighed 40 pounds more than I do now. (A self-fulfilled prophecy: my legs really were big.)

As the other stresses of adolescence waned and I found fulfillment in work and lasting relationships, my life — and my weight — stabilized. I was lucky to avoid the devastating effects of an eating disorder. But for more than 10 years, I definitely had disordered eating. So I recognized myself in many of the comments Cabrera made during her interview with Vicki.

I didn’t have a daughter, so I can only imagine how tricky it is to navigate food issues as the parent of a young girl. I’m just glad there is help, and hope, for those who find themselves in the throes of destructive eating habits.

Listen to Vicki’s interview. Hear Cabrera describe the “hostile environment” that awaits young women attempting to recover from eating disorders. Think about the message you are sending every time you say, “I feel fat.” And every once in awhile, eat something just for the sheer joy of it.

A daily reminder to adjust my attitude

Every afternoon about 3pm or so I get a reminder to get over myself.

That’s about the time that parents and caregivers are coming down the sidewalk outside my office, headed for the back door at Cortney’s Foundation, which is located next our suite in the retail/office complex at 70th St. and Shea Blvd. in Scottsdale.

Cortney’s Foundation was created to provide continuing education and programs for physically and mentally challenged adults who have aged out of the public school system. The program is designed to give them “an ability to further reach their individual goals [and] elevate their personal potential as members of our community,” according to the foundation’s website.

The organization provides structured activities along with hydro therapy, pet therapy and music therapy. (Marketing Director MaryAnn Ortiz-Lieb can vouch for that; her office is closest to the music room at Cortney’s.) A recent feature is the Snoezelen Room, a sensory integration room full of soothing sights and sounds. Individuals with special needs often struggle with over-stimulation; this room offers an ideal environment  for relaxation and soothing of the senses.

President and founder Cindy Carpenter believes that “being handicapped is not a life sentence but a lifestyle.” That has become the mission for this organization, inspired by her daughter Cortney, who was born 25 years ago with a host of medical issues and a very uncertain future.

As their school day ends, many of the program’s 17 students pass by my window, excited to greet the patient, loving adults who take them home each night. Some are in wheelchairs. Some lumber awkwardly. Some can’t control forceful outbursts.

All remind me my own challenges are small.