Special Needs Guide 2016

. November 1, 2016.

Parents with special needs children benefit greatly from support and/or specialized information groups, coming together to share experiences and helpful advice. Here are some resources that provide help.

Supporting those that care

Local support groups for parents
By Donna Iadipaolo

The Parent SHARE Support Group

This group, run by the Autism Collaborative Center at Eastern Michigan University, is open to anyone in the community who is a parent or caretaker of someone on the autism spectrum. This support group has been meeting in-person, biweekly or monthly, depending on the semester, typically on Monday evenings from 6-7:30pm, at 1055 Cornell Rd., Ypsilanti. “The main goal of the group is peer support and resource exchange for parents,” according to Betsy Stoelt, LLMSW, who is the group facilitator.

For more information call 734-487-2890.


A2FACES is a Yahoo Groups email list established in 2003 for families with a student with ASD or Asperger Syndrome who live in Ann Arbor, or attend Ann Arbor Public Schools. There are approximately 200 families on the email list. “The purpose of the group is to share information about autism/ASD services in Washtenaw County, and also to discuss education services for people in the Ann Arbor public schools,” according to Barb Byers, moderator of the group.

For more information or to join the group email
Barb Byers at babmay11@provide.net.

Washtenaw County Families Connect

The goal of this Facebook group is to help local families and caregivers whose children have serious chronic illnesses, disabilities, and/or special needs to connect with each other and or with advocates in southeast Michigan. “I think it’s definitely informative and inclusive but I’d really like to know more parents on a personal level, especially single moms,” said Nonni Stefani, who joined the group this summer. 

To join this group, go to Washtenaw County Families Connect
on Facebook and request to join.


Ann Arbor Parent Advisory Committee for Special Education (AAPAC), is for families with a student with an IEP or 504 plan (not just autism) that need additional school and home support. Meetings are held during the school year on the first Monday evening of the month, at 7pm at the Tappan Middle School Media Center, 2251 E. Stadium Dr. The public is welcome, and typically the Ann Arbor Public Schools Special Education Director and her assistants are present for questions.

For more information about this group,
contact aapacexecboard@yahoogroups.com.

Cancer Support Community

“We have a caregiver group for people who have a loved one with a cancer diagnosis, and parents of a child with cancer,” according to Rosie Morrison, LLMSW, Program Director of Cancer Support Community of Greater Ann Arbor. The Cancer Support Community also has a program called Kid Support for families affected by cancer, a mix of children who have a parent with cancer or who have cancer themselves. A parenting group is held concurrently with the Kid Support program.

For more information call 734-975-2500.

Moms Making a Difference

Moms Making a Difference is a group for mothers of special needs children to talk and connect with other moms who understand. “The women share triumphs and war stories, and get to have a little break from the usual chaos of motherhood,” according to Nicole Balensiefer, group member. Currently, the group is meeting at Brewed Awakenings, 7025 E Michigan Ave., Saline from 8:30-10:30am on the third Saturday of each month. “Anyone can drop in, the group is very friendly,” said Balensiefer.

For more information or to join the group email
Nicole Balensiefer at dapoch@gmail.com.


The PLAY project

Helping young children with autism
By Jennifer Brough

We all love to play. Play helps us relax, and build social and life skills. Richard Solomon MD (Dr. Rick) uses his PLAY Project to change the lives of young children with autism. Dr. Rick notes that in a child with autism, the brain cells that allow them to understand the outside world and work out its complexities, “are either disorganized or under-connected or both.” Missing these links, children see a “world that feels overwhelming and chaotic, so the child retreats and feels safe in sameness, control, and repetition.”

Dr. Rick explains that children with autism have a lot of potential. “Reaching out and engaging them very early while their brains still have the plasticity to change and grow, is critical, and it’s not impossible for a kid to recover and develop the wiring that he/she needs to live a normal life.”

“Our intervention has strong research evidence and we see the results of early engagement for autistic children in our PLAY project with so many families.” says Dr. Rick. Parents might still deploy traditional ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) including speech training and occupational therapy, but the bonus from the PLAY project is that it empowers parents and is ten times less costly than ABA. “We coach the parents, putting them in control of their child’s recovery. Parents can make every interaction a good interaction all day long.”

Playing around goes beyond fun and games— Dr. Rick says play serves a serious role in brain development.

Playing around goes beyond fun and games— Dr. Rick says play serves a serious role in brain development.

What does play actually mean?

“It means just getting really silly, perhaps wilder than you ever thought possible. Get down on the floor with the kid and insert yourself into his or her world,” says Dr. Rick. He adds that it’s important to do what the child loves first, but if you engage them in a fun way, you can start the process of recovery, eventually building in discipline and life skills. The state of Ohio has adopted the PLAY project statewide and parents like Susan Rummel endorse it. “From day one, working with Dr. Rick and the PLAY project has been a joy for my son Jacob, and the whole family.” Jacob started interacting with other kids at places like Chuck E. Cheese, initiating conversations with adults, and she sees his character developing. Susan adds, “It just brings tears to my eyes seeing the difference and how much he’s improved.” Jacob is now at a regular school, loves playing scrabble and as Dr. Rick says, “Is becoming a high functioning kid, leaps and bounds ahead of where he began.”

The potential within

With two children, and four grandchildren in the Ann Arbor area, Dr. Rick certainly has busy weekends. “They let me off the hook for a while though so I could write my PLAY project book, Autism: The Potential Within. I’m finding the book can really help parents understand both the situation and the process.” The book provides useful information on where to get help, and follows the recovery process of a child and his family from diagnosis, parent comprehension (and grieving) through implementation of the PLAY project.

To find out more about the PLAY project and Dr. Rick’s book,
Autism: The Potential Within, go to playproject.org.
PLAY project services are available in Ann Arbor
through Dr. Rick’s office located at 3031 Miller Rd.
Call 734-585-5333 for more information.


Play Ball!

Every child deserves a chance to play baseball
By Jennifer Brough

Who doesn’t love baseball?  The Miracle League of Plymouth has fans who certainly do.  On a late summer day, they cheered their heroes at Bilkie Field, where over 100 special needs children from across the region play the game. 

Do the players love it?  “Oh yes they do”, says Deb Madonna, President and a driving force behind the league. “After working with special needs children over the years, and loving baseball myself, it came naturally to me that playing baseball would help these kids.  Despite the best efforts of parents and family, these kid’s lives can be very restricted. On the field, they have the opportunity to learn social and mobility skills from each other. The coaches and their buddies help with building their confidence,” explains Madonna.


A sentiment echoed by parents, “What’s my favorite thing about the league?  It makes everyone smile.  It’s helped my daughter get to 8th grade, an impossible dream before joining the league.” says Claudia Pietron, mother of the effervescent Caroline, who is on the autistism spectrum.  Vinnie’s mom, Lin adds, “This is great for the kids. Vinnie (who has Down Syndrome) cries big tears when the game gets rained out.” 


A game without barriers

With an overriding belief that every child deserves a chance to play baseball, the league raised funds for Bilkie Field, a small baseball diamond specially equipped for children with disabilities.  “Built in 2011, the field has a rubberized surface and is completely flat so the kids can run safely and wheelchairs roll smoothly. And, if a child has difficulty holding the bat, or hitting the ball, the league pairs each child with a volunteer buddy, who guides their bats and helps them to each base.”

Like the field and the equipment, it’s a game with no barriers. There are no outs and each season, everybody gets to hit a homerun. Game day announcer, Jonathan Weid, who’s been with the league since its inception, captures the excitement with encouragement. Train operators wave to the kids on their way through the nearby railway junction. A junior football team, the Plymouth Steelers act as buddies for the kids. Volunteers donate to and run the concessions.


If you’d like more information on signing up for the league, becoming a buddy,
volunteering in some other way, or becoming a donor, please visit
www.miracleleagueplymouth.org, or contact the league
at info@miracleleagueplymouth.org.

Special Needs Directory


Creating Brighter Futures

4201 Varsity Dr. | 734-926-0740

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy services are provided for children, ages 8-18, who are exhibiting developmental delays, or have already been diagnosed with autism or other developmental disorders. Creating Brighter Futures’ goal is to provide the skills, teaching environments, and learning opportunities necessary to improve the quality of life for each child in a center-based setting.


March of Dimes- Michigan Chapter

455 E. Eisenhower Pkwy | Suite 75
248-359-1550 | marchofdimes.org

The March of Dimes is working toward a future when all children will be born healthy. They offer health information to moms, moms to-be and help comfort families if something goes wrong. They research the problems that threaten our babies and work on preventing them.


Danmar Products

221 Jackson Industrial Dr.
800-783-1998 | danmarproducts.com

Equipping people, enhancing lives; Danmar produces products for special needs, including equipment used in therapeutic and recreational settings such as helmets, head supports, flotation aids and more. Danmar Products has a very focused market, and each client’s needs are of the utmost importance to them. Their customs department can create a one-of-a-kind product for you based on your designs and specifications. The majority of their staff have been with them for over 10 years, and they are still discovering new ways to improve their line of products.  As an added bonus, Danmar Products manufactures all of their equipment in their plant located in Ann Arbor.   


Goldfish Swim School

2107 W. Stadium Blvd. | 734-864-5555

Goldfish Swim School Ann Arbor offers small group classes, as well as semi-private and private lessons for children 4 months to 12 years. Our state of the art facility and 90 degree pool make swimming an inviting experience for children of all levels and abilities. Our specialized curriculum comes equipped with a visual guide and tools specifically for children with special needs. Perpetual swim lessons give the opportunity for the child to bond with their teacher and move at their own pace.


Judson Center’s Autism Connections

2935 Birch Hollow Dr. (inside JCC)
734-528-2003 | judsoncenter.org

Judson Center is a non-profit agency that provides expert, comprehensive services in  southeastern Michigan that strengthen children, adults and families impacted by abuse and neglect, autism, developmental disabilities, and mental health challenges. Judson Center’s Autism Connections, offers a comprehensive approach, designed to embrace the individual needs of those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and their families from age two through early adulthood. Services include ABA, counseling, family support services, social skills groups and Sibshops.


Wild Swan Theater

Towsley Auditorium | Morris Lawrence Building
Washtenaw Community College | 4800 E. Huron River Dr. (Season Performance Site)
734-995-0530 | wildswantheater.org

Wild Swan Theater is dedicated to producing professional theater of the highest artistic quality for families and to making that theater accessible to everyone including low income, minority and disabled children through low ticket prices and innovative outreach programs. All of their season performances are shadow interpreted for those who are deaf or hearing impaired, and they offer backstage touch tours and audio-description for blind theater patrons. In December they will be performing Wild Swan’s version of the holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” created for family audiences.


A2 Therapy Works

3200 W. Liberty Rd. | Suite #5
734-780-7852 | a2therapyworks.com/

A2 Therapy Works, LLC is a small, family focused private practice which works with both children and adults. Their goal is to help children and families reach their greatest potential by offering quality services and providing useful information in a family-friendly manner. In order to make it easier on busy families, they provide services in the comfort of your home, at your child’s preschool, school or in their office in Ann Arbor. They work with children of all ages and provide treatment of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Pervasive Developmental Disorders, Oral-Motor Dysfunction, Language Delay, Dyslexia, Fine Motor and Sensory Integration Disorders, and more. There is currently no waitlist for treatment and they accept most major insurance plans.