Special needs guide

Q: Many kids who have siblings with special needs feel as if they have had to grow up faster and have greater responsibilities in the family. Has this been your experience?

A: You definitely learn a lot of life lessons at an earlier age that you wouldn’t if you had a normal brother or sister. I remember one time when I was six years old and I didn’t understand what was   going on. My brother Alex had a seizure. All the lights were on in the house at 12:30 at night. I had to go outside and be the one who waved to the rescue squad to show them where we were. I now know what to do when Alex has a seizure. My Dad and my older brother Taylor taught me how to deal with it.

Q: What is the most difficult thing about having a brother with special needs?

A: Well, a lot of people would think it is having to cut back on my social life but really it is how other people treat Alex. Even though he is my older brother, I feel like I have to defend him. In the sixth and seventh grade I didn’t say much about him if anyone said anything. Now I do. I am trying to be mature about this issue and I let people know what my family and I deal with. I have that big brother protective thing even though I am younger. I have to have his back and stick up for him since he can’t stick up for himself. When people talk about him they don’t see him through my eyes. If you had a brother like I have you would see things differently and be more thankful for what you have.

Q: Speaking of your social life, has it been affected by Alex?

A: Sometimes I can’t go out on weekends because I have to stay home and watch him [Alex] and I do not have as many social

activities as kids with ‘normal’ siblings, but this is my duty. I put my family before my friends. Sometimes I get mad and disappointed when I have to change my plans, but in the end it is the family that is most important.

Q: It appears Alex has an extremely difficult time speaking. How do the two of you communicate?

A: You kind of know what he is thinking. He can look at me and I can know what he wants. He definitely has a ‘more chips’ and an ‘I’m thirsty’ face. Sometimes other people don’t get him. We were at the airport once and every time Alex saw a plane he would say ‘DISNEY’. As his brother, I know he associates planes with heading to Disneyland. We also watch movies, color on the porch, and he loves to swing at Olander Park. He also likes it when we drive around and go to McDonald’s and he is a big fan of the Disney Store.

Q: Your older brother Taylor moved to Louisiana. Do you find it more challenging since his departure? What are your future plans?

A: I have had to step up to the plate since Taylor left. My parents have been dealing with our situation for a long time and they know how to handle it. I plan on going away to school, maybe BGSU. I want to have some space but still want to be close enough to help my family.

Q: What advice do you have for other kids dealing with siblings with special needs? What can people do to help kids in your situation?

A: I would tell them they are not alone. There are lots of people going through it. They will look back and realize this is truly a blessing.  As far as helping out, people can just be there to listen and tell them it’s going to be OK.

Q: Any final thoughts?

A: Yeah, my family does a really good job dealing with Alex. We have learned many aspects of life that other people will never get the opportunity to learn. We have all put a lot of time and effort into Alex and he is growing up to be a   really great guy.
John plays football, baseball, and runs track for Southview High School and is involved in the Christian youth group at school. John hopes that people will look at his brother Alex (who turns 23 in April), and others like him, through different eyes after reading this.


Saturday, November 2nd

Many brothers and sisters have feelings that are difficult to express, even to a friend: sadness that a sister can’t learn things that others take for granted; anger when a brother’s behavior prevents the family from doing things other families do; or the special pride when a sibling with a disability learns a basic but important life skill after months or years of practice. At Sibshop, they’ll share these feelings with others who truly understand. 10am-1pm. Alternate Learning Center, 3939 Wrenwood, Toledo. 419-214-3066. siblingsupport.org. Free. Additional meetings are set for Nov. 2, Jan. 11, Feb. 1 and March 1.  


Special Needs Helping Heroes

“Helping Heroes” is an understatement when it comes to introducing this group of people who dedicate their time to helping children with special needs. From teachers to program directors, there is no shortage here of true heroes! With capes on their backs, they tell us about their most rewarding jobs, how they got started and what keeps them going. 

Sandy Langford

Director and Founder of the Self Reliance Center

After working closely with 3 children with autism for 13 years, Sandy Langford realized the need for childcare services for autistic children. According to Langford, kids are often asked to leave traditional daycare around 11 or 12 years old. She explains, “It’s common for some kids with autism to have certain behaviors that some day care programs aren’t just ‘okay’ accepting them— sometimes the kids just act out.” She clarifies, “some kids on the high end of the spectrum can certainly stay home, but    others cannot be home for safety reasons.”

Langford wrote a grant to provide childcare services geared toward autistic children ages 12-22, which was something that had not yet been done. She created The Self Reliance Center to provide a “safe place where kids can be themselves and not worry about being stared at…or kicked out.” Langford also makes every effort to accommodate working parents; the Center is open until 6pm during the week, and all day during the summer and on school vacation days. While the work is challenging, Langford says that “just to be able to be around these kids on a daily basis” makes it worth it. She continues, “Sometimes I just have a busy, hectic day, and one kid in particular will come up to me and say ‘I love you’ and lay his head on my shoulder. That’s the icing on top of the cake.”


Self Reliance Center of the Toledo Regional Autism Network. 2040 W. Central Avenue, Toledo. Visit https://www.greatlakesautism.org/toledoregionalautismnetwork/SRC/
or call 419-291-7020 for more information.


Mary Schoen

Intervention Specialist at McKinley School

As an educator for 26 years, Mary Schoen was surprised recently by a question from a little girl at the school where she works: “When are you gonna become a real teacher?” Schoen laughed and explained to the girl that she is a real teacher; she’s an intervention specialist, which means she travels from classroom to classroom to work with  students instead of having her own classroom (thus the reason the little girl thought she wasn’t a “real” teacher).

Of her 26 years in education, Schoen has spent the last 15 working directly with students with special needs. She travels to different general education classes, servicing language arts, math, and reading for students in grades 6-8 at McKinley School. She helps modify assignments/tests by making them more accessible to the student, “tailoring [the work] to the student’s own skill level and working from there.” She also works individually with the kids in the classroom, helping  teachers in any way that she can, and takes the kids back to her office as-needed for small group sessions.

Schoen says teaching students with special needs means “you have to be fast on your feet because…you may need to quickly switch gears in order to deal with the skill that the student is trying to learn.” Schoen’s ultimate goal for her students is “for them to feel more confident in themselves and advocate for themselves to reach their highest potential.” All of the daily struggles and challenges are worth it “when you’re teaching and the light bulb goes off… you see that the kids ‘get’ it.”



Sarah Osborn

Intervention Specialist at Hiawatha Elementary School

After teaching young children (kindergarten to second grade), Sarah Osborn has many humorous anecdotes, but her most recent favorite is the motivation of one young student who repeatedly exclaims, “I want to make Sponge Bob happy!” 

Osborn explains that she became an intervention specialist, in part, because of her upbringing:  “I was brought up with a sister who has special needs–she’s on the autism spectrum–and that taught me to see things through her eyes, to appreciate her perspective, and to appreciate the wisdom of somebody who thinks differently.” Osborn points out that not all of the children with whom she works have special needs; she works with many young children who might need additional help in math and/or reading. For reading interventions, Osborn works closely with their literacy coach, Joyce Calmes, and they make reading fun and engaging through the use of “game-based learning to promote pre-literacy skills” (particularly at the kindergarten level). According to Osborn, “We do things like mystery boxes and rhyme aways. The students really enjoy it, and we enjoy it, and if we’re having fun, then the students are, too.” Osborn continues that the most rewarding part of her job is “to see the children, especially kindergartners and first graders, have those ‘ah-ha’ moments when they can sound out a word, or get excited about a book, or become engaged with reading. The spark of reading is amazing.”




Shannon Twiggs

Director of Camp Cricket and Inclusion Specialist
for Washington Public Schools

Shannon Twiggs has known that she wanted to work with children with special needs since she was in the 5th grade. She worked with a young man with special needs, who was about her age at that time, and from that moment on, her career path was determined.  

Like many teachers, Twiggs works during her school break during the summer; she runs Camp Cricket, a summer camp for students with and without special needs. She trains and provides staff for other summer programs, including Maumee Valley, the YMCA, and the MetroParks, so that she and her staff can “facilitate inclusion programs, provide support…and support children in the community.”

Twiggs says that the toughest part of managing Camp Cricket is “making sure that I have the correct amount of staff and support for all of the agencies, and making sure that the agencies are being provided the support [that] they need.” However, Twiggs loves “working with the families and seeing how happy they are.” It satisfies her to know that the kids are “engaging with their peers, and the kids come home and talk about how much fun they had and how they made new friends.” For children with special needs, making new friends can be difficult, and Twiggs recounts a touching memory of how one parent was so excited that her child made his first friend. The mom exchanged phone numbers with the other parent to schedule a playdate for their kids.


Special Needs Directory

Adopt America Network
1500 N. Superior St.  • 419-726-5100
Adopt America is committed to finding permanent, loving homes for special needs children. Through a national network of agencies and volunteers, they’ve helped over 4,000 children find new families.

Autism Academy of Learning
219 Page St.  •  419-865-7487
The Autism Academy is a year-round public school for students with spectrum autism disorder. Focusing on developing a higher quality of life and promoting independence through subjects like academics, behavior, and daily living and vocational skills.

Capable Kids, LLC
2728 N. Holland-Sylvania  • 419-346-8269
Capable Kids helps children with autism and other developmental disabilities cultivate  communication skills and learning needs through applied behavior analysis, group interactions and one-on-one sessions.

Colleen olson, MD Pediatrician
Mercy Pediatrics – Maumee
1657 Holland Rd., Suite A  •  419-794-2180
Mercy Family Physicians – Perrysburg
1103 Village Square, Suite 202
For more than 12 years, Colleen’s relaxed and caring approach has encouraged parents to ask questions and discuss concerns about their child’s health.

Down Syndrome
Association of
Greater Toledo 
PO Box 298, Sylvania  •  419-536-4321
A support group that promotes inclusion, advocacy, awareness, education and parental support to anyone that has a loved one with Down Syndrome. 

Green Options for Autism of Lucas County 
1660 Amesbury Rd.  •  419-250-0401
GOAL provides a day/vocational program for young adults with autism and other developmental disabilities to develop job skills, an entrepreneurial spirit, and self-determined job opportunities. Open house Thursday, December 5, from 5-8pm.

Harbor Behavioral
6629 W. Central Ave.  •  419-475-4449
Harbor Behavioral offers services such as family medicine, adult day care services for individuals with developmental disabilities, and vocational programs for individuals with barriers to employment.

Hope Learning Academy
4234 Monroe St. •   419-297-6313
info@hopelearning academy.org
Hope Learning Academy is a K-8 school dedicated to serving students who need to learn in a non-traditional classroom setting. This student-centered community is driven by rigorous social-skills, art infusion and sensory integration.

Lucas County Board
1154 Larc Lane  •  419-380-4000
The Lucas County Board of Developmental Disabilities embraces the philosophy of self-determination, an approach for planning individualized services and support. Supporting eligible individuals and their families in developing a vision for their future based on individual strengths, interests and choices.

NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness)
Mary Finch, Office Manager
NAMI of Greater Toledo
2753 W Central Ave.   419-243-1119
NAMI of Greater Toledo offers FREE support groups, education classes and advocacy for individuals and their family members who are living with mental illness.

Mercy Autism Services
3521 Briarfield Blvd., Maumee
Mercy Autism Services emphasizes evidence-based autism intervention. The only program in the Northwest Ohio region that utilizes applied behavior analysis, occupational therapy, speech therapy, as well as the P.L.A.Y. Project as core program concepts.

Prescribed Pediatric Center
1932 Birchwood Ave. •  419-530-6726
Prescribed Pediatrics promotes optimal physical, mental and social health for infants and children with special needs by providing family-centered, physician-
prescribed, medical day treatment and medically enhanced child care.

RMS Fitness
5151 Monroe St.  •  419-851-0074
RMS Fitness provides recreational support and opportunities to persons with developmental disabilities, including exercise classes, yoga, health assessments, Wii games, cooking classes and more.

Sensational Kids Daycare & Learning Center
6060 Merger Dr., Holland
Sensational Kids offers a quality educational learning center that looks at each child as an individual. Offering therapy programs from our physical, occupational and speech therapists, who also help to develop programs so that the children are working on current goals.

Sunshine Inc.
7223 Maumee Western Rd., Maumee
Sunshine is a non-profit organization that provides services to people with developmental disabilities in Toledo and across Northwest Ohio.

Superschade’s Foundation
1024 Gloucester Dr.  •  419-392-8727
Superschade’s Foundation works with other local organizations and businesses to benefit children and families with special needs, as well as educate the community about developmental disabilities.

Toledo Public Schools
420 E. Manhattan Blvd.  •  419-671-8200
Toledo Public Schools strive to provide equal opportunities and assistance for students with developmental disabilities, offering multiple programs to pinpoint potential challenges and provide special education.

Toledo Vision Therapy
2600 N. Reynolds Rd., Suite 103B
In addition to providing a wide variety of optometry-related service, Toledo Vision Therapy also offers services for special needs patients, including examinations and vision therapy.

Wood County Board of MRDD
11160 E. Gypsy Lane Rd., Bowling Green
The Wood County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities offers comprehensive programs and events with the goal of improving the quality of life for children and adults with special needs.

Wood Lane
1921 E. Gypsy Lane Rd., Bowling Green
Created by families for families, Wood Lane is a one-stop resource center for information, programs and contacts for persons with developmental disabilities. Their mission is to support persons and families living with developmental disabilities in living full, unhindered lives.