After 30 years of foster parenting, Penny and Rick Poitras have learned when it comes to caring for kids no one size fits all.
That was especially clear when it came to finding help for their youngest son Kadence, who was five at the time he was diagnosed with autism.
Because of the late diagnosis and the limited window of opportunity to get him started on a program, the couple began examining available help options.
It was during that search Penny learned about a Kelowna woman with whose assistance and support eventually turned her son’s life around.
Henrietta Penney of Kelowna is regarded as one of the best in her field when it comes to dealing with autism and related conditions.
Several years ago, Penney and Penny Poitras recruited behavioural interventionist Barb Schwabe of Kaleden to put together a program to help Kadence.
From that small beginning, Barb’s Place was born.
Now with a professional team of six, 20-plus clients at a time from pre-school to adult age, are being helped at the small, rural hobby farm.
“The progress that we’ve seen in Kadence since he started at Barb’s has been unbelievable,” said Poitras. “Now his receptive language, understanding direction and self regulations skills are increasing. He’s really getting it and I think that is directly because of what is happening at Barb’s.
“It’s about meeting a child’s needs, customized to what their needs are and deciding which service provider meets the needs of a specific child.”
At Barb’s Place the four behavioural interventionists (including Schwabe), a speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist work in a very unique setting.
“ The kids are able to receive all aspects of learning and we’re outside a lot where we have the horses and the dogs and all the other animals,” said Schwabe. “There is just something about the horses and the kids are just drawn to them and that daily interaction seems to make a huge difference.”
Kadence had previously received help at another centre but Poitras felt in his best interest he needed something different.
“I didn’t really know a lot (about autism) prior to this and one of the things that I didn’t realize is that every child with autism presents differently,” she said. “Someone once told me is that when you meet one child with autism you’ve met one child with autism because the spectrum is so diverse.”
The fact Kadence is doing so well has also eased the foster parents pain of the original diagnosis.
“You change that (pain) around to see the joy and see the excitement to see what you can do to have the child reach their potential,” she said. “We’ve been blessed with a little guy since he was a baby.”
She believes everyone with special needs has something to offer to the community and why it is so important to keep things positive building self esteem.
“It can bring whole communities together and it takes whole communities to raise a child whether they have disabilities or not,” said Poitras.
For Schwabe her work now is all about love and compassion.
“Everyone here is part of our family so we take pride in the kids development and see it through until they’re out on their own,” she said. “Yes, there is a certain amount of emotional attachment. We love our kids and the kids love coming here.”