When CRS Social Work Administrator Melissa Alexander first heard from Cassie Laird that her 8-year-old daughter’s one true wish was to be able to feed herself independently, she said, “Let’s try to make it happen.”
Diyari Askew is a very bright and precocious second grader in Ms. Jacob’s class at W.O. Lance Elementary in Lanett. She loves reading, learning, and playing with her friends. Like a lot of kids her age, her most-favorite-subject-of-all in school is art.
This always-smiling kid is full of boundless, big ideas that are only matched by her big and generous heart. Yet, arthrogryposis steals away more than 90 percent of the strength in her arms and upper body, and she isn’t able to fully bring a spoon to her mouth on her own.
“I am always calling CRS whenever I have questions or problems,” said Cassie. “They are a treasure trove of information for me. Without CRS, we were uneducated to our own needs or what is even possible. I talked to CRS about the feeding issues with Diyari, and Melissa recommended I take her to the feeding clinic.”
Diyari’s issues with independently feeding herself were not typical for the CRS feeding clinic, as that clinic usually handles chewing or swallowing problems or food texture issues. CRS tried several different techniques to assist Diyari, from differently shaped utensils to weighted spoons.
Nothing worked. Except for the Meal Buddy.
The Meal Buddy Assistive Feeder is a robotic arm that allows the operator to choose from one of three different bowls to eat from with the push of one button. The robotic arm wipes excess food from the spoon and even wipes drips from the bottom of the spoon.
“The Meal Buddy is just the most-recent example of CRS helping our family,” Cassie said. “For as long as I can remember, CRS has been there.”
Cassie said that when Diyari was born, her limbs were twisted and locked in such a way that doctors told her not to expect positive growth or development.
Through physical and occupational therapies provided through AEIS and CRS, Cassie began to notice big changes within Diyari’s first two years.
“She was a late bloomer,” said Cassie. “But she was always trying. She learned to scoot on her hiney, and she was able to take her first steps when she was 4 years old. Once she realized she could do it, there was no stopping her.”
Now, Cassie relies on CRS staff to help Diyari by attending IEP meetings and providing necessary school accommodations, like extended time for taking tests.
“It’s difficult for her to write,” Cassie said. “She’s fully capable of doing the work, but she needs more time.”
CRS also worked with ADRS Rehabilitation Engineering & Assistive Technology Services to see if Diyari was a good candidate for Dragon Natural Speaking speech-to-text software.
“The software is tuned for an adult’s voice,” said Cassie. “It wasn’t a good match for her now, but it’s nice to know that is an option as she gets older.”
Knowing is the biggest victory for Cassie and Diyari – not only what is now possible, but also knowing the steps needed today to reach the goal for tomorrow.
“CRS is there for you, even when they don’t have to be,” said Cassie. “They encourage you when you are at your weakest, and they empower you to take those steps forward to having an independent lifestyle. I’m thankful that we are a part of that.”
This story is part of an occasional series – entitled Success17 – highlighting the accomplishments of ADRS consumers. It and other stories in the series appear in the 2017 ADRS Annual Report.