By Sean Barron
Many visitors to Easter Seals’ skill- development center might be drawn to a darkened, multisensory room that features small dabs of light on the walls and ceiling that resemble stars in the sky.
But if you ask the parents of those the program serves, they likely will tell you that the real stars are the teachers, therapists and other specialists who help their children daily.
Many of those workers and parents got to interact and share their feelings with one another during Monday’s open house at the center, 717 Boardman-Poland Road.
The three-hour gathering showcased a rather new section set up for young adults with autism-spectrum challenges who need training, skills and support before entering the job market, pursuing higher education or participating in volunteer efforts, noted Ken Sklenar, Easter Seals’ president and chief executive officer.
“It’s a really good addition to our programming,” said Sklenar, adding that clients learn or improve on life skills such as setting a table, making a bed and doing laundry.
In addition, he said, program participants take part in community outings such as attending movies and going grocery shopping.
Sklenar added that nine young adults on the autism spectrum attend the center, which has a capacity for 12. He also noted that the program is not restricted to those with autism-spectrum challenges.
Also, part of the facility is an adult day-care center to assist those who have Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia with daily-living skills and medical needs, Sklenar continued.
Specifically, the skill center for the younger clients includes weekly speech- and occupational-therapy services, fine-motor-skills training and reading assistance using applications on a Kindle device, noted Christina Menichini, program coordinator.
The multisensory room has an aromatherapy machine and a laser beam that casts the “stars” on the wall, all of which helps clients relax and refocus, Menichini explained.
“When someone’s really anxious, they can go in there for a little bit,” she said. “It seems to help them.”
Recreation and exercise equipment include a treadmill, large medicine balls and weights that are used regularly, Menichini continued.
A few parents praised the holistic approach the program has adopted, saying it has vastly improved their children’s social skills, confidence, speech and concentration.
One mother said she’s grateful that her 23-year-old daughter wishes to continue learning academics and life skills. The daughter’s self-confidence has grown to where she feels comfortable reading to preschool children and working with older people, the mother added.
Another parent said she’s thankful her son is better able to interact with peers, adding that he first attended Easter Seals at age 1.