Stephie, a recent high school graduate, was diagnosed with autism at an early age and communication is challenging for her, so her mom sought speech-language therapy through JCFS Chicago’s Integrated Pediatric Therapies (IPT). Stephie’s speech-language therapist worked with her to develop the tools to participate in conversation through customized special technology on an iPad. As Stephie moves into adulthood she continues to work on her communication skills with the hope of eventually living independently in a group home and beginning a job training program. Our IPT therapists provide individualized speech-language, developmental and occupational therapy for children and teens with a variety of developmental and medical needs including autism, genetic disorders and cerebral palsy.
At JCFS Chicago, helping children, teens, and adults with intellectual/developmental disabilities (I/DD) integrate into the community and improve their quality of life is at the core of what we do. Through our family of services, we provide expert, individualized support in areas such as special education, pediatric therapies, counseling, group respite, community-based group living, adult independent living, customized employment opportunities, social activities, legal services, and a specialized recreational camp for children and teens.
The JCFS Knapp School and Yeshiva provides an adaptive learning environment for students (K-12+) who may have struggled in a traditional school, and have varying needs, from emotional, behavioral and learning challenges to those facing difficulties with attention, executive functioning and impulse control. Our state-aligned curriculum plus meaningful collaboration between school personnel, parents and mental health professionals allows for a comprehensive and individualized education for students like Avi, who transferred to the Knapp School a few years ago. With support from his teachers and social workers, Avi is thriving and both his academic and social skills have improved. He loves expressing his creativity in art class and engaging with the school’s therapy dog Sparky. “We really don’t think there is a better place for Avi right now,” says Avi’s parents. In addition, our Yeshiva program offers religiously observant children the opportunity to participate in a therapeutic school program while also fulfilling the mitzvah of learning Torah and tefillah.
Four years ago, Jeff decided he was ready to live on his own and was looking for an independent living arrangement. With the help of his parents, Jeff found a good fit at an integrated living home through JCFS Chicago. He likes to help clean the house, shovel snow, rake leaves, grill and host parties with his housemates. When he was ready to find a job, Jeff connected with a JCFS Chicago career and employment specialist. Focusing on his skills, abilities and interest, together they developed a customized employment plan that helped Jeff secure his current job. Now he commutes five days a week to work in the janitorial department of a government building.
Through the Duman Opportunity Center, we provide customized, person-centered services and streamlined supports leading to competitive integrated employment opportunities. Working with her job coach, Lizzie assists with a myriad of tasks at the Abe and Ida Cooper Center. With a consistent routine and schedule, the new job has given her independence, including conquering her fear of taking the bus on her own. Lizzie reports that her newfound confidence has lessened her anxiety, so she can focus on the job.
Meaningful relationships are an essential part of life and those regular connections with others can have a positive impact on health and happiness. However, adults with I/DD often feel isolated from their community or have difficulty building friendships. Recreation and leisure activities, particularly those that foster social bonds and friendships, are critical to support the quality of life in people with disabilities.
Even when living independently or with minimal support they may have limited ability to access activities that would naturally help them establish relationships outside of their family. Some people need help fitting into certain settings and others may need someone to facilitate their involvement.
JCFS Chicago’s Community Connections program helps adults with I/DD, Autism Spectrum Disorder and significant learning disabilities increase their social connections. With one-to-one support from our staff, participants build skills that help expand their interests, meet new people and develop friendships. It gives them the opportunity to meet and share time with each other in ways that form relationships, allowing them to live life more fully. “Community Connections has helped me become more mature and independent in my social life. it has helped me make new friends,” says Jon, a participant in the program.
At Camp Firefly, we create a supportive, welcoming community for children, teens and young adults who oftentimes have difficulty connecting with peers and navigating social situations. Everything in our program, including the best of summer fun and exceptional therapeutic group activities, is designed to support campers. By celebrating individual strengths and recognizing potential, campers build self-confidence, improve self-esteem, and enhance social skills. “You gave Mitch a chance to experience things he has never before – to sit in a dining hall with others and laugh and tell stories, to be included in circle, to lay in a bunk at night with other kids and just talk…to be accepted,” says Megan and Sam, Mitch’s parents.
Children need a parent or guardian to advocate for their rights and the opportunity to learn. Some children may also need a legal advocate to help ensure their access to education and other protected rights. If you are a parent or guardian of a child with special needs who has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan and you are not satisfied with the services being provided to your child, or you suspect your child may have a disability and may be in need of services in school, JCFS Chicago Legal Advocacy Center may be a resource for you. We offer special education legal representation, consultation, information and referral services to students with disabilities and their families. Our attorneys are committed to ensuring that each child receives the education, supports, and services he or she needs to learn.
JCFS offers services and support for people with disabilities and their families across the lifespan. Our vision for an inclusive community begins with an open front door that leads the individual and family to well-trained staff prepared to explore truly person-centered options. From pediatric therapies and special education to social opportunities and community-based group living, we continue to work to make our community accessible for all.