Special needs Helping heroes

. November 1, 2013.

“Helping Heroes” is faint praise when it comes to introducing this group of people who dedicate their time to helping children with special needs. From teachers to program directors, there is no shortage of true heroes! With capes on their backs, they tell us about their most rewarding jobs, how they got started and what keeps them going.  

Madelon Possley

Reading Tutor at Washtenaw Learning Disability Association

“Find out as early as possible,” says reading tutor Madelon Possley. “If you have a conviction that your child has difficulty reading, bring it to the school’s attention.” Case in point: Madelon’s son, whose reading issues led her to learn as much about reading as possible and eventually get a Masters in Reading from the University of Michigan. “Dyslexia accounts for around 80% of learning disabilities, and yet there are many kids who fall off the radar,” she says. “It can run in families, so if parents are dyslexic as well, they may have a tough time identifying it.” Education is key, and she recommends the book Overcoming Dyslexia by Sally Shaywitz. Madelon is also president of Washtenaw Learning Disabilities Association (washtenawlda.org), which offers tutoring info and workshops, including one on ADD on November 19 (see website for details).

Washtenaw Learning Disability Associationwashtenawlda.org


Stephanie Swain

Program Director for the Just Us Club

Coming from an Ypsilanti family of 11 kids, Stephanie Swain realized early on that she had a heart for childcare. A Special Ed teacher by day at the High Point School in Ann Arbor, Stephanie’s the program director for the Just Us Club, an after school option open to any students with disabilities who can function in a group setting. “We have a huge range of kids here: cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Down syndrome, autism spectrum,” she says. “We have a pretty unstructured program, because the kids want to relax after a day at school, so we play games, do art, and we have music therapy once a week.” She also offers respite care, giving parents some precious free time while she hangs out with the kids. Even with her jam-packed schedule, she’s found time to continue her education and is on the verge of receiving her master’s degree and gearing up for a PhD. “I’m super passionate about helping parents understand their kids’ behaviors,” she says. “If I can help alleviate some of the anxiety that parents can feel when their child has a meltdown or just acts up in an extreme way, the environment gets better for the whole family.”

Learn more about the  Just Us Club at justusclub.org/contacts.html



Liz Sang-Watson

Owner and Therapist at Great Strides Therapy

When occupational therapist Liz Sang-Watson moved to the Ann Arbor area and saw the abundance of horses and farms, she decided to incorporate her childhood passion with her job. The result: Great Strides Therapy, where she, her husband Dan, and a number of volunteers offer hippotherapy in which the rhythmic and repetitive movements of a horse´s walk build the rider’s core strength. Also strengthened is their sense of mastery and self-confidence. “I see children ranging in age from 2 to 12 years old with diagnoses such as Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and autism,” says Liz. She also has a work skills program for young adults. “The power of the horse to elicit speech and improvements in strength, coordination, balance and sensory regulation is profound,” she says. “One of our riders uttered his first word during his first session. His mom burst into tears when she heard him say ’ball’ since we were playing basketball on the horse that day. A few minutes later when we stopped the horse, he said ‘go.’ It was an amazing ride!” Liz has recently begun to offer pony birthday parties for families with special needs children. To learn more about hippotherapy, she recommends the American Hippotherapy Association and therapeutic riding through PATH (formerly American Riding for the Handicapped).

Great Strides Therapy 14091 Scio Church Road, Chelsea. 734-428-7210



The Special needs Directory

Ann Arbor YMCA
400 W. Washington St.
The YMCA works to support members of all ages, races, incomes and abilities with the chance to engage in healthy community activities. Kids, in particular, can participate in swimming classes, sports teams, day camps, gymnastics and other recreational and developmental activities.

Autism Collaborative Center at Eastern Michigan University
1055 Cornell Rd., Ypsilanti
The ACC assists individuals living with autism spectrum disorders and related developmental disabilities. Programs are designed for individuals of all ages and abilities, and include therapy, life skill training, interventions and group work.
Community members can also get involved through training and volunteer programs.

Dynamic Tutoring Service
5891 W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti
Since 1979, Dynamic Tutoring Service has helped students of all ages and capabilities achieve their highest potentials. The elite team of tutors and educators offer multiple programs and teaching styles specially designed for whatever challenges a student may be facing.

Ele’s Place
1582 Eisenhower Place
Ele’s Place is a nonprofit, community-based organization dedicated to creating awareness of and support for grieving children and their families. Through peer support group programs, Ele’s place helps children cope with the death or life-threatening illness of a loved one.

Family Service and Children’s Aid
330 W. Michigan Ave., Jackson
Family Service and Children’s Aid aims to support strong, diverse families by utilizing community-based resources. The group provides numerous family-based services, including foster care and adoption, substance abuse counseling, and educational programs.

24 Frank Lloyd Wright Drive
PO Box 0446, Suite J2000
IHA is a nonprofit, multi-specialty group that provides personalized, high-quality health and medical services throughout Southeast Michigan. By working with community hospitals, medical offices, and practitioners, IHA gives their patients
access to numerous resources.

Saline Cooperative Preschool
6299 Ann Arbor Saline Rd., Saline
Saline Cooperative Preschool offers multifaceted, teacher-guided activities to help preschoolers learn, play and grow in a positive, nurturing environment. The school’s play-based programs provide a cost-effective preschool choice that
encourages a pattern of lifelong learning.

The Nutritional Healing Center of Ann Arbor
3610 W. Liberty Rd.
The Nutritional Healing Center eschews traditional medical practices in favor of natural food and traditional chiropractic methods. Through nutritional diets and non-invasive procedures, their patients have been shown to lead healthier lives without requiring drugs or surgery.