On her last day at Heartspring, Hiba spends some time playing in the gym. She smiles as Lacy Cary, medical office assistant, helps her roll a ball to her little brother, Iman. When handed a piece of cereal, Hiba feeds herself. What many don’t realize is that those simple acts were hard to come by when Hiba arrived at Heartspring just two short months before.
In Nigeria, services for children with special needs are limited. When Hiba came to America in October 2011, her family’s intent was to provide care for her poor vision through the Envision Child Development Center. However, Hiba’s diagnosis was beyond Envision’s practices, and had a deeper underlying issue. Envision referred Hiba to Heartspring, where she was diagnosed with autism.
Upon arrival, Hiba’s love of climbing and energy level were quickly noticeable. According to Cary, Hiba was impulsive and needed more structure to improve her independence. The goals of Heartspring’s pediatric staff mirrored the family’s expectations.
“My goals were to be able to stimulate her and get the best out of her, especially with regards to getting her to be able to communicate and learn personal self-care skills,” Hiba’s mother, Ramatu Mohammed, said.
Heartspring therapists aimed toward simple goals, such as helping Hiba sit down for longer periods of time. “Being able to sit is the first step in learning [self-help skills] and she didn’t do that at all. She was just like run, turn and go!” Mimi French, occupational therapist said. By the end of her stay, Hiba could sit for five to ten minutes, a significant symbol of her progress.
French worked with Hiba for many of the self-care therapies to help her learn how to feed herself with a spoon, drink from a cup, dress herself and brush her teeth. Although Hiba’s experience at Heartspring was short, the team of professionals aim to educate the family and provide a foundation to continue practices beyond the facility’s walls.
Videos of therapists working with Hiba and instructions followed her home to Nigeria. “Surprisingly, [the methods] are not as demanding or tasking as I thought they would be. We do a little bit of all of them, it’s gradually becoming a lifestyle,” said Mohammed.
Daily practice has led to further development. According to her mother, Hiba’s behavior is much calmer; the running and climbing has reduced. Additionally, Hiba enjoys her mom’s company and seemingly understands more of what is said. When her mother needs to move around, Hiba knows to follow and stand near her. Hiba’s eating habits have improved; she can now feed herself with a spoon with little assistance. She also helps with dressing, and has started using her right hand. Brushing her teeth has been a difficulty, but it is a more complicated skill that will come with time.
Time, in fact, was something the therapists, like Mimi French, wished they had more of with Hiba. Yet, even Hiba’s beginning progress has been influential to her family. “I think Mom saw hope in what was happening with Hiba. And that was awesome,” French said.
For other international or domestic families with children with special needs, Ramatu has a piece of advice, “Heartspring is the place to go. They have the expertise, and a loving and unique approach toward bringing out the best of these little angels. They have well equipped therapy rooms/facilities and above all, the atmosphere of the whole place is homey. I am most grateful for all they’ve done for Hiba, my family, and I. Words can’t express how thankful I am for their love, services and generosity to my family.”