Programming with a Purpose: Down Syndrome and Autism

Our Playhouse has been lucky enough to have a dedicated group of volunteers that developed programming for individuals with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder, or other sensory processing disorder.

Dynamic Duals, a GiGi’s Playhouse-Madison piloted program, is a monthly program designed specifically for families and individuals with a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder (DS-ASD) and/or sensory or behavioral challenges. Parents and adult siblings meet in one area to connect, have fun, share successes, resources, and strategies while individuals with Ds and ASD and/or sensory concerns engage in fun educational activities that respect the needs of each participant. Siblings can join their brother or sister in activities that match their interests or choose other options. Our focus is creating relationships, working on individual goals, and ensuring participants feel comfortable and safe. Tools specifically designed to improve communication, easing transitions, support motor skills, and explore the sensory world are utilized based on each person’s unique characteristics and preferences

Sue and Wendy have been the program leaders and we are so grateful for all their dedication and work to date! While Wendy is stepping down from her role we are excited to welcome Playhouse mom, Jennifer, to her new role!   Read below for a little information about each of our awesome volunteers!

WENDY KAPLAN

 

After 5 ½ years, my family priorities are such that I have made the decision to pass the baton of Co-Leading the Dynamic Dual program. I am honored to have walked this path with you; to have had this space and setting where children and families would connect, share information, resources, joys, frustrations, where you would feel welcomed and could succeed. It has been a privilege leading and serving families.

 

I am so pleased Jennifer will be leading the parent group. She is well qualified professionally and personally. GiGi’s Playhouse Madison should be commended for permitting us the opportunity to serve these children and families. While I am stepping aside, I intend on staying involved by substituting, advising, and supporting Sue and Jennifer.

 

I look forward to watching the program’s progression.

 

JENNIFER BROWNELL

 

Jennifer Brownell’s advocacy and service experience spans decades including befriending a peer with Down syndrome in high school, caring for a grandmother living with dementia and a decade of advocacy with her local school district.

 

After many years of caring for persons with disabilities, Jennifer gave birth to Noah, who was born at 27 weeks with Down syndrome (DS) and endured a 99-day NICU stay. At age 5, Noah was diagnosed with Autism.  Today, Noah is functionally non-verbal and communicates with signs and ProloQuo2go Software.  Just as she would never want to put limits on Noah, Jennifer supports other families in their search to fulfill dreams for their children.  Recently, she, along with other families, requested that all high schools in the Appleton School System provide dedicated sensory spaces where students with sensory challenges, anxiety, or other health concerns can benefit from a safe, calm space to “regulate.”

 

With a BA in Social Work and Master’s Degrees in Gerontology and Health Administration, Jennifer has led teams that collectively cared for thousands of persons with disabilities and helped their families navigate through the complexities of health care.  In the interest of furthering her education and ability to help others, she pursued an advanced designation from the American College and was awarded the designation of Chartered Special Needs Consultant.

 

Jennifer understands that children with a dual diagnosis do not quite fit easily into the DS community because of differing abilities, nor do they fit into the Autism community either due to significant intellectual disabilities, low muscle tone, and having limited to no speech.  Dynamic Duals has provided a community for Noah and her to be around families on a similar journey.  Jennifer has a sincere desire to help lighten the load and remind families they are never alone. Jennifer looks forward to sharing the journey.

 

SUE TORGRUDE

 

Dynamic Duals began at Wendy’s request because she perceived an unmet need, and gratefully, GiGi’s- Madison was and is supportive to hosting the program.  I have thoroughly enjoyed our partnership as I have planned activities for sons, daughters, and siblings, and worked with volunteers.  I very much regret that Wendy is stepping away from the program, and I will miss her dearly. However, I completely understand her current family priorities and support her decision.  Happily, she is willing to lend her advising support and will be available to substitute as parent leader.

 

I extend a great big welcome to Jennifer Brownell, who will lead the parent group while her son Noah enjoys the company of other participants and a variety of activities.  She is well qualified and experienced in leading group discussions, and I look forward to the privilege of working with her!

 

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