Program cares for children with behavior problems By Mary M. Murphey
In 1994, Mojdeh Bayat and her husband were exhausted, frustrated and nearing the end of their rope. Their 2½-year-old son, Seena, was not developing like a normal toddler. He was not walking or talking. Instead of playing with toys, he would stare at them or just shake them. He would spend hours running back and forth between the same spots or repeatedly flapping his arms like a bird.
The Bayats were worried and bewildered.
Seena's pediatrician referred the Bayats to Tuesday's Child, a nonprofit organization that helps children with behavioral problems and their families. There, Seena was diagnosed with autism and finally received treatment. The agency helped the family map out a plan of action for Seena's future.
"This is a very special place for me," says Bayat, who came to the United States in 1984 from her native Iran. "It totally changed my life, my whole family's life."
Bayat's experience with Tuesday's Child lead her to return to school for a master's degree in early childhood special education at Northeastern University. Degree in hand, Bayat became the agency's executive director, a position she has held for three years as she pursues her doctorate in childhood development at Loyola University.
Tuesday's Child sees about 300 families a year-40 are enrolled at any one time-with children ages 18 months to 6 years whose behavior is hard for the parents to control, says JoAnne Loper, parent training coordinator.
Tuesday's Child works with children who have ADD, anxiety disorder, bi-polar disorder and delayed speech. But those special-needs diagnoses account for only about 52 percent of the children who come to the agency.
Some of the children have difficulty making friends or following directions. Others throw tantrums or purposefully misbehave. Sometimes these behavioral problems are linked to children not having learned "how to sit and listen," Loper says.
"Parents come here totally frustrated and beaten down because if it's not ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) or a learning disability, that must mean they are a failure as a parent," says Loper. "But often, this is just a strong-willed little person-someone who is a difficult child to parent."
Loper says the majority of Tuesday's Child kids have been asked or soon will be asked to leave their preschool or kindergarten.
Or their behavior puts them at risk for being kicked out of school someday.
Bayat says some parents come in and just want "someone to fix their child." But that is not the sort of remedy Tuesday's Child offers.
Tuesday's Child offers three 12-week programs, all born from the same philosophy that parents are teachers.
A crucial part of that process is parental involvement.
While their children are receiving treatment, parents are required to attend training sessions. Initially, parents commit to six months, but most stay involved long after their family finishes, says Loper. Not all parents become employees-most volunteer as parent trainers-but more than half of the 17-person staff are former clients.
Tuesday's Child is the successor to a 1980 program run by Children's Memorial Hospital to train parents as peer educators. When that grant ran out in 1984, clients of the predecessor organization, The Early Intervention, didn't think the program should end. They started a grassroots movement to continue the mission.
Tuesday's Child is now an independent group, and its program has been recognized and recommended by the American Psychological Association.
The Saturday program, for parents who work during the week, is a group class. But the weekday program is a 2½-hour one-on-one individualized class taught by other parents who have been through the three-month program themselves.
Its prevention and early intervention program, targeting expectant parents and parents of children under 3, is called Little Connections.
There is also a new program, which is free, started through a collaboration of grants and geared toward Hispanic families, Familias Felices.
The fees for the programs are determined by a sliding scale according to a family's finances. The agency offers a student-to-teacher ratio of 5-1, ensuring individual attention.
What they learn
Children are taught basics-the social, academic and behavioral skills they need to succeed. They spend time playing in small-sized classrooms with one teacher for every five students.
Meanwhile, parents can be in their own classroom, learning behavior management and effective discipline.
"What we hear over and over again is that most parents who come here feel very isolated," says Loper. "Then they come here, and they don't feel alone."
The peer-to-peer training means an accepting atmosphere for parents.
"Because people here are so accepting and nonjudgmental," Bayat says. "You don't feel that professional/layperson gap."
Tuesday's Child, currently operates in Albany Park at 4028 W. Irving Park Rd. For information, visit www.buildinghappyfamilies.org.
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