KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Joshua Center for Neurological Disorders is an underappreciated resource that has been changing the lives of neurologically impaired children and adults since 1996.
Those living with Tourette Syndrome – a motor and vocal tic disorder – Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorders and high-functioning autism have been the main focus at the nonprofit organization since its opening. Counseling, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, social and life training skills, young adult transition programs, conferences, free workshops and summer camps are available to visitors.
The Joshua Center has a well-rounded approach guided by professionals, Executive Director Sarah Oliver told The Heartlander. The goal is to see individuals succeed while using new life skills and training methods.
“The whole basis of succeeding in life is learning how to interact with your peers, making friends and keeping friends,” Oliver said. “Our kids can struggle with that – being bullied and not quite understanding if they have said something that may have upset somebody. Our goal is to help them navigate their world, and sometimes they have trouble expressing their feelings.”
In January of 1987, Oliver’s mother Becky Ottinger was called to her son Joshua’s school and was told her son would not sit still, could not stop making noises or gestures in class and was inattentive. Ottinger explained her son had been diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and could not stop these behaviors, but to no avail. Ottinger quickly began noticing a world where neither adults nor her son’s peers would try to understand or show him kindness.
From that day forward, Ottinger pledged to make it her life’s work to ensure children with Tourette Syndrome or other neurological disorders would receive an adequate education and fair treatment.
Ottinger served the next 10 years on the board of directors of the Kansas City chapter of the Tourette Syndrome Association, and two years on the National Tourette Syndrome Association’s board.
The Joshua Center has been growing ever since. Funding for the center is often provided by corporate contributions, individual donors and annual events. Most programs at the center are offered on a sliding payment scale, but others do accept insurance.
Oliver says she is impressed with her mother’s works, and says many people who suffer from Tourette Syndrome also suffer from comorbidities such as autism, OCD, ADD, and ADHD.
“Honestly they deal with the same type of things in their world. The anxiety, the bullying, having trouble making friends. Even though they are different disorders they have a lot in common, and these kids need a lot of help.”
Children and adults with neurological impairments typically learn differently and sometimes slower than those with a neurotypical frontal lobe of the brain. Because of the learning curve, The Joshua Center impacts people’s lives through cognitive behavior therapy and social skills training. Members of the organization often frequent local schools to help others learn what may be going on with neurologically impaired students and how to deal with their disabilities in a respectful manner.
“Sometimes it’s hard to reach people and say, ‘Look, they’re not doing this on purpose.’ You don’t tell someone who wears glasses to quit wearing glasses. You can’t tell somebody who has tics to just stop ticcing. If they are labeled or pointed out at a young age as being disruptive, rather than talking to the class and telling them they can’t help it, that is where you learn empathy and understand.”
The Joshua Center provides free workshops to teach parents how to communicate their students’ needs to their school and how to receive an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 plan for their student with a disability.
Ottinger, a former second-grade teacher, visited the Rotary Youth Campground in Lee’s Summit years ago. She learned the campground was specifically designed for children who live with developmental and physical disabilities. Shortly after the visit, Joshua Center Camp was born, and has been operating for approximately 29 years.
Every year campers return to find a new theme. This year’s camp is called, “Set sail with Joshua Center,” which entails a cruise boat theme in which campers will pretend to sail across the world while participating in a slew of fun activities.
“I do think it changes life. There are many times these kids come and it is the first time they meet children like themselves and make a friend. We hear continually through the year, ‘Do you have a date yet? My child can’t wait for camp.’ We recently lost a camp child in December, and her mother wrote in the obituary that camp was the one thing (her daughter) talked about all year.
“This is a (place) where there is no judgment. Our camp is there to give them as normal of a camp experience as possible with the support needed. They are there to have fun, make friends, learn a little and have a memory. A lot of our kids don’t get invited to things. They don’t get to go to birthday parties, or skating parties. A lot of kids come back every year and we welcome them.”
Oliver says camp counselors also make new friends and often return each year, creating a family dynamic.
Joshua Center Camp is currently looking for more camp counselors, and is especially short on male counselors for the upcoming June 17 camp. Those interested can visit the camp website to sign up.
Joshua Center Camp offers scholarships for those who cannot afford to pay. Donations are happily accepted through several avenues, including Kansas City’s own nonprofit Camps for Kids, which will match up to $12,000 in donations for this year’s campers.