Helping People with Developmental Disabilities Lead Meaningful Lives
Misericordia believes that all people—disabled or not—should have the opportunity to be meaningful members of their community every day. Each resident at Misericordia works closely with support staff to develop an annual plan to reach individual goals. There are many elements integral to leading a happy and fulfilling life, and Misericordia is dedicated to addressing all of these in each resident’s personal plan.
In Illinois, children with developmental disabilities are supported through both inclusive and special educational settings, depending on their needs. Thankfully, most students thrive in elementary and high school, enjoying their time in the classroom and extra-curricular activities and building friendships with their fellow students. Illinoisans with developmental disabilities can attend school until the age of 22. Unfortunately, it is at this age when many people with disabilities see a dramatic drop in programmatic support.
Since offering services for adults in the late 1970s, Misericordia has created and refined programs focused on job and independent living skills. Each adult, along with their parent/guardian, meets with support staff to determine the best match between their interests and program opportunities.
Misericordia is different from many organizations in the field in that we support adults with severe and profound developmental disabilities, meaning most are between three months and three years of age on a cognitive level. In fact, approximately 60% of Misericordia’s clients have severe and profound disabilities. Therefore, Misericordia has developed numerous opportunities to meet each person’s needs, from an adult with profound disabilities who works on eye contact in the on-campus puppetry workshop to someone who thrives in an independent setting in the community at-large. As described below, every individual at Misericordia is engaged in appropriate combinations of education, employment, therapy, and recreational activities.
For adults with severe and profound developmental disabilities (mental capability of 2-36 months of age), Misericordia has developed self-help programs to support the highest quality of life possible. Basic functions that most of society takes for granted, such as hand washing and making eye contact, are key goals for these participants.
As schools become more sophisticated in helping children with special needs, earning a high school diploma is an attainable goal for many of Misericordia’s residents. Illinois citizens with developmental disabilities are able to attend high school until the age of 22, and the extra time provides an excellent opportunity to learn more and prepare for life as an adult. Misericordia collaborates with school districts within a 20-mile radius for placement of students, ensuring an equal balance of students with and without disabilities at each school. When a young adult moves to Misericordia and would like to continue education at a local high school, Misericordia strives to accommodate that wish.
Some of the McAuley Resident’s, all of whom have significant medical issues in addition to mental disabilities, attend the on-campus school because of the risk of infection on buses or in larger classrooms. Curriculum is geared toward their individual needs and educational objectives. The McAuley School is certified/approved by the Illinois Board of Education.
Nutrition & Fitness
As awareness of the detrimental effects of obesity and poor nutrition continues to rise, Misericordia has strengthened its commitment to assessing the individual health and fitness needs of each resident through its Healthy Eating-Healthy Living program. Full-time staff in Misericordia’s Moore Aquatic and Fitness Center manages the program, which focuses on the importance of good eating and exercise. The center offers a 65,000-gallon pool designed for people with disabilities and a large cardio and weights room.
Individuals with severe and profound disabilities have a very different set of needs, as they are often reliant on tube-fed meals that limit what types of food they can eat. Registered nurses and dieticians work diligently to ensure that sufficient nutrients are a staple of these residents’ everyday diets.
Residents come from diverse religious backgrounds, and Misericordia is dedicated to respecting and supporting each person’s beliefs. Those with Catholic and Jewish backgrounds are able to attend weekly on-campus services, and Misericordia encourages all residents to be involved with organizations of faith in the larger community. Misericordia also offers numerous non-denominational opportunities for quiet reflection.
Social and Recreational Activities
After a busy day of busing tables at the Greenhouse Inn Restaurant, Misericordia’s residents deserve fun and relaxing activities in their free time. Family members and staff frequently join residents at interesting events and on trips to exciting places in Chicago and beyond. A small sample of recent outings includes concerts by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, art exhibits at the Chicago Cultural Center, Chicago Fire soccer, Bulls basketball and White Sox baseball games, the Winnetka Children’s Fair, and musicals at the Latin School of Chicago. In addition, Misericordia residents’ own performing groups, the dancing Heartbreakers and singing-and-signing Heartzingers, appear at the Irish American Heritage Fest and Taste of Chicago.
Health and Therapy
Like people without disabilities, each child and adult at Misericordia has unique medical and, quite often, therapeutic needs. Misericordia works diligently to ensure that specialized care is provided for each person to promote good health and well-being.
Many of the children and young adults at the Mother Catherine McAuley Skilled Nursing Center require intensive daily skilled nursing care. For the majority of residents, Misericordia reaches out to doctors and clinics in the community at-large to provide specialty care. Currently, residents visit the Down Syndrome Clinic at Lutheran General Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, among others. Additionally, each resident has annual physical, dental, hearing and eye evaluations; female adults receive gynecological examinations.
All of Misericordia’s residents receive an annual assessment by a licensed therapist. Based on the identified needs, residents receive physical and occupational therapy through the Eisenberg Therapy Center on Campus. For children and adults with severe physical disabilities, therapists may work on goals such as relaxing and controlling muscles or learning to use a state-of-the-art wheelchair. Those with more mild physical challenges may be supported in job-focused tasks or overall mobility. The Eisenberg Therapy Center was one of the first in the country to include a sensory room, which visitors describe as “magical” due to its calming music, aromatherapy and innovative light-triggered stimulus and response tools. Two hydrotherapy rooms are also available for residents with muscular conditions.
Difficulty with speech is a reality for many children and adults with disabilities, so Misericordia’s speech therapy department works with residents both individually and in groups. For obvious reasons, it is highly advantageous for residents to have the best communication skills possible for employment, socialization, and other important aspects of life.
As some parents of children with special needs would tell you, a developmental disability may also be accompanied by behavioral issues. When this happens, Misericordia’s behavior support services department develops a plan to modify behavior. In a few cases, a psychiatrist becomes involved to ensure the resident feels as confident and healthy as possible.
There is a positive trend for people with developmental disabilities to live longer and healthier lives, thanks to more intensive and specialized medical care. As a consequence of this trend, however, people with developmental disabilities also are more likely to experience the passing of family members, including their parents. To help residents experiencing such a loss mourn and heal, Misericordia has organized a peer-focused grief group. Residents are encouraged to participate in the group for as long as they feel necessary.