I was unaware that resources for this population were lacking

This fall we partnered with students attending Concordia University. Specifically students in the Health Promotion course as part of the Physical Therapy Department. Throughout the course, two students were tasked with creating lessons to use at GiGi’s Playhouse Milwaukee. Throughout the Fall the students continually reflected on the task and exclaimed that they were “unaware that resources for this population were lacking.” I feel that this is a common surprise. Many people don’t realize that although Down syndrome is one of the most common chromosomal differences it is the least funded. This means that it is prevalent but few supports have been developed and/or shared. At GiGi’s we are always excited to work with community partners and spread the love of GiGi’s but also to help spread awareness, understanding, and to increase inclusion. This particular connection did just that and with the lessons developed b Morgan and Mariah, we will also be able to guide our participants in a manner that is more like their peers. We appreciate having opportunities to connect with others and together change the way the world views Down syndrome as we lead by example in supporting Acceptance for ALL.

-Sara Van Deurzen, Site Coordinator, GiGi’s Playhouse Milwaukee


Dear Sara Van Deurzen and GiGi’s Playhouse,

We wanted to thank you for the opportunity to work with your employees to create lesson plans for the participants of GiGi’s Playhouse. Your partnership with our Doctor of Physical Therapy program has been very beneficial for our learning of health promotion within the community around us.

The project proposed to us was to put together lesson plans that the staff at GiGi’s Playhouse didn’t currently have available for their participants. These lesson plans include healthy eating habits and tips on how to plan nutritious meals and navigate the grocery store. Another part of our project was to put together a lesson plan that educated individuals with intellectual disabilities on the harms of smoking and alcohol consumption and to provide them with resources for quitting these habits. Our third lesson plan included education on the importance of getting a full night’s sleep, and finally on how to manage your stress and why that is important for the participants of GiGi’s Playhouse. These lessons relate to Healthy People 2030 objectives regarding changing health behaviors, such as reducing current tobacco use in adolescents and adults, increase fruit and vegetable consumption, increase the proportion of adults who get enough sleep and increase the proportion of adolescents that show resilience to challenges and stress.

Our two-person team was able to find research on how many individuals with intellectual disabilities are more prone to unhealthy eating habits, tobacco and alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, and lack of stress management resources. The need for this population to have resources on these topics is high, but the research is often lacking on successful ways to educate and motivate them on leading more healthy lifestyles. It was very eye-opening for both of us to dive into this research and try to put together resources that we hope will be successful and useful for your team and your participants at GiGi’s Playhouse.

We would not have been able to create our lesson plans without the help of Sara Van Deurzen. She provided us with great insight into what the environment is like at GiGi’s Playhouse and what the facility needed from us. She was able to provide us with example lesson plans that were available on your website and give us continual feedback on information that she thought was lacking or complete during this process. Sara’s commitment to helping us complete a product that would be useful for your staff and participants was very evident and empowering. Thank you, Sara, for all your help!

As a student that participated in this project, I, Mariah, learned a lot about ways that we can help individuals with intellectual disabilities. I have not had the privilege of working with individuals with intellectual disabilities previously. I feel that I was unaware of all the other variables and educational resources that this population was lacking. I think that I will better be able to understand my future patients that have intellectual disabilities and could even try to do my part in helping to help them through some of the barriers that we helped to make lesson plans for.

As an aspiring acute care physical therapist, learning how to effectively communicate with and educate individuals with intellectual disabilities is a valuable skill to have. Working on this project brought the lack of research regarding this population in relation to health education, health disparities, and the effect of certain health behaviors on people with intellectual disabilities. I hope that in the future, that I, Morgan, can use what I learned by creating these guides to help educate my patients about healthy lifestyle choices for a better life.

This project aimed to progress the population that GiGi’s Playhouse serves toward multiple Healthy People 2030 objectives. The Healthy Food Choices Guide covers many nutrition and healthy eating including increasing the consumption of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and reducing the consumption of added sugars. The Tobacco and Alcohol Education Guide covers objectives such as decreasing current adolescent and adult tobacco use, increase successful attempts to quit smoking, and reduce the proportion of adults over age 21 who binge drink. The Healthy Sleep Guide covers Healthy People 2030 objectives including increasing the amount of high school students and adults who get enough sleep. The Stress Management Guide covers mental health objectives such as reducing the proportion of adults with disabilities who experience serious psychological distress and increase the proportion of children and adolescents who show resilience to challenges and stress. This project also helped to progress toward the Healthy People 2030 objective of increasing the health literacy of the population. Hopefully, the lessons we created will help the participants make healthier and more informed choices about their health and lifestyles.

Thank you again for the opportunity to work with you as a part of our Health Promotion course. I hope that Concordia’s Doctor of Physical Therapy Program will be able to continue to work with GiGi’s Playhouse in the future to further benefit the participants.


Mariah Babinec, SPT, Concordia University-Wisconsin

Morgan Eilers, SPT, Concordia University-Wisconsin

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