Susan Kessler presented the April 19 program on the Alaska Center for Children and Adults.
Susan Kessler, executive director of the Alaska Center for Children and Adults, gave the club an overview of the non-profit's core services and an introduction to its new programs.

She began with a history of the organization, which was formed in the 1950s as a statewide organization to respond to polio, particularly getting services to children in Alaska's rural villages. Over the years, the other statewide chapters morphed or disbanded, except for Fairbanks.

Today, the organization serves children and family with disabilities through therapy, intervention services and equipment. They serve the Fairbanks borough, Copper River Basin, Valdez, and the North Slope Borough; beginning July 1, they'll expand services to Delta Junction.

Their largest program is the Infant Learning Program. It has been a part of their services for more than 30 years and is Susan's area of expertise. The program serves children from birth to age three whose progress on speech and motor skills is an area of concern. Early intervention in identifying these cases pays in the long run. A federal mandate directs that services be provided in a family-centered model, so the agency has been moving away from a rehab-therapy model. As a result, all learning activities happen in a natural environment (the home rather than a clinic, for example). Providers take an inventory of the family's activities and identify ways that they can be learning tools for the infant. They also develop a coaching-style interaction with the parents. ACCA also works to minimize the number of providers working with a family. A primary provider works to develop the relationship with the family and serves as the liaison with other members of the team (occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy and special education). A goal for 2010 is to create virtual teams across the region to better serve providers in rural areas where they might not have access to all therapy specialties.
The second core program is FACES: Fetal Alcohol Community Evaluation and Services, a program ACCA assumed from public health. The program works to prevent primary and secondary disability from prenatal exposure to alcohol. Previously, children were diagnosed with FAS at age five. Now, they're working to diagnose children as they enter kindergarten so that they can begin treatment earlier. They're also working to expand funding for follow-up services.

ACCA's oldest program is the loan closet. With a deposit, Fairbanksans can borrow a variety of medical equipment (wheelchairs, crutches, etc) for short term loan (including for summer visitors). Many insurance companies don't cover these costs, and people may only need the equipment for a short time, so this program helps reduce medical costs overall.  

Speech therapy is another program. There is currently a vacancy at ACCA as their speech therapist just retired after 22 years. There's a severe shortage both nationally and statewide for speech therapists, with 10 vacancies in Fairbanks alone.

In an effort to address this shortage, ACCA has developed the "Grow Your Own Speech Therapist" program. It's a cross-agency initiative with the FNSB, FMH and UAA to identify barriers to training and encourage Fairbanksans to train for the program. There's no baccalaureate program to prepare students, so it's typically two more years of prerequisites before entering the master's program.

ACCA is partnering with Quota International and the Lions to provide hearing/vision screening for children from birth to age five. Early diagnosis is key, since early language delays can have ripple effects with the development of reading skills.

Questions from club members focused on funding sources for the agency and educational requirements for therapists. Patty Meritt noted that the infant learning program is an investment that saves costs in special education down the road.

More online: