Outdoor Therapeutic Environment
One of he most visible area of growth and change is the area in which we hold our Outdoor Therapy Program (OTP). We have made enhancements to our ½ mile nature and fitness trail, and a staff member oversees that it stays well-maintained and safe. Our students can walk and run there at intervals throughout the day. This helps clear the mind and body of excess energy and frustrations, allowing them to focus when returning to their program activities. We have added adaptive playground equipment so that all of our students at any level can enjoy the socialization so desperately needed in their development.
Whether our students are in a one-to-one teacher-student pairing or a small group setting, they all benefit from being around other children for at least some of their day. OTP is the ideal setting for that, and of course outdoor therapeutic programs are key in meeting developmental goals for children with challenges. Physically challenged students show improvement in core strength and stability. Those with behavioral challenges show improvement in emotional regulation. This is measured by behavioral tracking and meeting cognitive behavioral goals. All show progress in social cooperation, the ability to create and maintain “shared interest” and in language development.
We brought in an outside expert who taught us how to establish and care for an organic garden. Our raised garden beds are accessible to children to garden who otherwise could not, and even those who cannot tend plants can help plan and monitor a garden.When students find that they are doing something functional, they are more motivated to take pride in their work and complete the task; they have something tangible to show for their efforts. Gardening can help children with challenges grow in independence, self-esteem and social skills. The children are already enjoying the “fruits of their labors.” We have an abundance of mixed greens, strawberries, tomatoes, sunflowers, and a beautiful herb garden.
Animal Assisted Therapy
Our animals provide endless hours of laughter and entertainment for the children and staff. We have grown the animal part of our outdoor therapeutic program to include goats, silky chickens, rabbits, donkeys, and a guinea pig; horses come twice a year to visit. Our students have bonded with these gentle creatures, promoting care, trust, and encouraged language and interaction. The chickens’ eggs are gathered daily, and are another source of conversation and experience for our students. In this day of abundant technology, few children have the opportunity for such an experience.
In addition to our resident farm animals, a certified therapy dog attends Jacob’s Ladder, and one of our staff is trained and certified as a facilitator for the dog by paws4people. We have a second dog, Grace, who is still a puppy. Her facilitator is already in training and will be joined by Grace when she’s old enough to serve. A senior staff member who oversees all of our animal care and training is studying Animal Assisted Learning and the therapeutic applications of human-animal bonding. Research shows that child development and learning are accelerated through animal companionship.
In a child with autism, just walking beside a service dog reduces their stress hormone by almost half. For this reason we are committed to implementing pet therapy based on research findings from the experts. Our own experience backs up research which says that the most significant result of being around and caring for animals is the building of relationships with them; and these relationships can translate to other areas of life.
Therapeutic Art Program
Jacob’s Ladder has a resident art teacher, providing lessons in the classroom, setting each week, as well as the opportunity for each individual student in the 1:1 work settings. The art lessons are therapeutic in nature allowing for children with special needs to improve their overall self-expression. Not only does art aid as a visual tool for children but it can help in the following ways; Improving fine motor abilities, visual/spatial discrepancies, communication, social interaction, organizational abilities and as a coping mechanism.
Our art teacher directs community events like Hide & Seek Art in the Park which is held at local community parks. In this event our students create art pieces, store them in recycled containers, and hide them in the park. Families in our community are invited to look for these art pieces and let us know when they are found. We include an explanation in the art canister and invite the people who find these art pieces to send us a picture of them. The students take great pride in their work, and the community becomes involved with and aware of Jacob’s Ladder.
The George Center is our partner for Music Therapy. Holding therapeutic music sessions for all students in age-appropriate groups. The younger students enjoy singing and clapping while the older students like drumming. By holding our music therapy sessions with two separate groups, we are able to appeal to all ages.
The JL After School Program, led by Senior Teachers, Zach Harrison and Daniel Stanley, is available to all current and past JL students, siblings, and neuro-typical children from local elementary and middle schools. The purpose of our after school program is to provide a loving and structured alternative to the traditional afterschool care and is designed to foster and refine the skills and confidence students need to thrive in all educational settings. The JL After School Program takes place on the JL Campus – an environment proven to motivate and engage students to become learners.
The combination of our brain-based methodology and multisensory learning is provided in a small group setting, with ratios ranging from 1:1-5:1 determined by the Clinical Team, allowing for more individualized attention. Through our brain-based methodology, students enrolled will be given the opportunity to grow cognitively, physically, and emotionally; and will be involved in neurologically stimulating activities to further enhance and develop social skills and awareness, through activities such as team sports including soccer and running club,and therapeutic animal facilitation as well as music, yoga, and gardening. We are also excited to announce our Weekend Adventures Program with activities including bowling, rock climbing, and more! Additional homework help and support is also available on an hourly basis through our academic tutoring program.
Students and families have an opportunity to attend Weekend Adventures to participate in activities including bowling, rock climbing, team sports, etc, that incorporate a wide variety of activities that promote group cooperation and personal growth. These outings are designed to be both fun and challenging, allowing students to learn new skills and build confidence. Therapeutic goals and academics concepts are incorporated into these adventures, challenging students to generalize skills across environments.
There is a direct correlation between improvisational theatre and basic social skills. Improv acting encourages, improves, and strengthens the following. . .
Adjusting to situations
Ability to handle conflict
Improv class provides a safe and supportive environment for children and teens to explore their confidence in social situations, to utilize fun and practice to develop behaviors through role play, to identify emotions, to encourage memory, to encourage team play, and, of course, have fun!
Sibling Support Group
Our mental health professionals work directly with students to address behavioral challenges in relation to sensory processing, communication, and self-regulation. Utilizing our brain-based model, long and short-term goals are developed and therapeutic interventions are implemented, increasing overall awareness, communication, and daily use of self-regulation strategies. Therapeutic services are also available to siblings of our students in the form of a monthly sibling support group and individual therapy sessions, designed to meet their unique needs as a member of a family dealing with issues of disability.
Additionally, our school psychologist conducts psychoeducational evaluations which include: adaptive functioning, cognitive ability, achievement, emotional and behavioral development, and visual-motor functioning, among others.