Teachers work with students with severe disabilities

Second-grader Heather McConkey gently rocks in a swing inside a classroom at Cerbat Elementary School, surrounded by attentive adults.

She raises her head periodically when she hears her name spoken by Kim Canto, who teaches the severe and profound class Heather is in, or by occupational therapist Jan Curran or assistant Sara Becenti.

Canto has additional help with the five full-day students and one half-day student in her classroom from special education assistants Keri Davis, Aftin Thofson, Lydia Hagen, Gwen Welch and Marzette Murray.

Normally an outdoors activity on a playground, the swing being used by Heather helps relax muscles that tend to tighten because of cerebral palsy, Curran said.

Canto taught a mildly mentally retarded class at Kingman High School last year.

She has met a different sort of challenge at Cerbat.

"Last year, my students worked on developing life skills and academics," Canto said.

"This year it's more developing functional skills, such as toileting and eating, with limited academics.

"Communication with these kids is very limited in the verbal sense, but we still work at communicating no matter their abilities.

Most of them are non-verbal, but they communicate in other ways like looking at you, blinking or turning their heads."

Canto's students have a variety of disabilities.

Among them are orthopedic impairments, speech or vision problems, Down's syndrome or limited mobility that confines a student to a wheelchair.

Curran is among four specialists who work weekly with the children.

Her focus is developing fine motor skills that enable a child to feed without assistance.

Bob Dorsey is a physical therapist.

He works on range of motion exercises that enhance motor skills and leg movement, Canto said.

Kathy Grenda is a vision therapist.

She works with the children to develop their focusing abilities.

Speech therapist Caroline Seedorf addresses communication issues that include verbal skills, sign language and use of picture cards, Canto said.

Canto's students interact with their non-disabled peers in special classes such as library, computers, music and physical education.

Two of them learn simple academics such as identifying colors and numbers in an autistic mental retardation class, she said.

Canto and her assistants also have children engage in dances and games involving wheelchairs, story time and arts and crafts projects.

The classroom soon will get a touch-screen computer that does everything associated with a "mouse," Canto said.

But perhaps the most special activities for the children are monthly field trips for horseback riding, swimming and bowling.

Horseback riding is done in Yucca at the Stagecoach Trails Guest Ranch.

Owner Carrie Rynders has a daughter afflicted with cerebral palsy and has accommodated the ranch for people with disabilities, Canto said.

Rynders charges "next to nothing" for Canto's students to visit monthly.

The children quickly bond with the horses, Canto said.

"Hippo therapy is also available at the ranch," she said.

"It allows the children in wheelchairs to experience just what the human gait feels like while on a horse and gives them a new perspective and view of the world."

Kingman Regional Medical Center pays for monthly swimming sessions in the pool at the Del E.

Webb Wellness Center and for bowling at Cerbat Lanes, Canto said.

A special lift puts disabled children in the pool at the wellness center.

Adaptive rails at the bowling center permit children to put the ball on a ramp and then push it onto the lane with a hand or foot, Canto said.

"One of my goals this year was to get the children out into the community, so they could become part of the community," Canto said.

"In turn, the community gets the chance to experience the children, and to feel more comfortable with and accept them.

"These (field trips) actively enhance everything we do with physical and occupational therapy.

In bowling, for instance, you must use motor skills, vision and the ability to communicate, so these trips promote various therapies used in real-life settings."