The Davis Family
Brayden Davis began attending Cantalician Center for Learning in 2011 after his parents heard from a friend of the family about the "wonders"Preschool Teacher Mrs. Shea O'Bear was doing in the classroom with her students with Autism. Grace Davis, Brayden's mother recalls taking a tour of the organization's former Eggert Road site with then school Principal Mike Kinz.
"There were murals on the wall, students were playing, and they were interested and engaged. It felt like the elementary school I went to as a kid," said Grace Davis. "After meeting Mrs. Shea, we felt so comfortable. It felt like I was talking to her mom to mom. That's when we knew our son had to go to Cantalician Center."
Grace explains the first day of school as a nerve racking one for her and her husband. She said leaving her 3-year-old, non-verbal son in the care of other people was terrifying, but their fears were quickly eased.
"There are no blueprints for how to do everything right as a parent, but I feel like we made the right choice by sending him to Cantalician Center. The staff were so patient with our son. Everyone has felt like family to us since the beginning," said Grace Davis.
In 2012, Cantalician Center moved their administrative operations and School Age programming to its current George Urban Campus in Depew. Grace recalls her son being very nervous and scared at the new building.She said he would act out by crying and running away a lot, but she said it was the staff that helped him adjust.
"It was touch and go for a while, but we were so glad to move into this building. It's nice and big. It has state-of-the-art classrooms that are equipped with smart boards and computers. Our son isn't really motivated by much, but he's a huge fan of technology use in the classroom," said Grace Davis.
In 2014, Brayden was chosen to take part in Cantalician Center's two-year pilot study for students to use speech generated software on an iPad. The goal was to provide students with an avenue for communication.Grace said Brayden clung to the iPad right away. She said it offered him the ability to have a voice of his own.
"This was a student in desperate need of a tool to bridge that gap between knowing what he wanted to say and being able to communicate it. He was someone with an extensive vocabulary, who couldn't use it. His other means were very limiting for him, often causing frustration, because he had so much to say," said Sue Ruska, Speech Therapy Head. "The speech software has given him the ability to facilitate use of that unlimited vocabulary. It's allowed him to express himself at home, in school, and in the community. Now he can socialize with peers, interact with his curriculum, express his thoughts, and so much more."
Grace explains that along with Speech Therapy, Brayden has been working regularly with the Occupational Therapy Department. Two years ago,the Davis' were told by medical professionals that Brayden was exhibiting issues with his behavior, but after working directly with the Cantalician Center Occupational Therapy department, they learned his issues were more sensory based.
"The line between 'behavioral' challenges and sensory processing issues is often blurred,however many times if a student's sensory needs can be targeted they can learn how to regulate and manage their reactions to environmental input. Using this approach can truly impact the way that students interact with and learn from their environment. Brayden is a perfect example, thanks to the hard-work and dedication of his family and those who work with him," said Vito Gigante, OccupationalTherapy Head.
This year was the first year that Brayden was able to understand and accept the concept of Santa Claus due to the strides he's been making in the therapies.
"This was a huge milestone. Brayden was actually really excited about visiting Santa at the Mall. He kept calm and used his iPad to talk to Santa. He was able to tell him what he wanted for Christmas. After a few minutes they were going through the different word categories on the iPad together. It was beautiful to watch," said Grace Davis.
Last year, Cantalician Center decided to put out its first official yearbook. Grace recalls the joy the book brought her son. Grace said the yearbook was just like the one students receive in district schools. It had pictures of all of Brayden's classmates and friends in it. She said he loved it so much that they couldn't pry the book away from him.
"It's important for us that our son is happy and school makes him very happy. He loves going every day. When we walk in, in the morning, the older kids will say, 'Hi Brayden!' It's heartwarming to watch. The traditional school experience is something we never thought our son would have and we can say with confidence that he has that experience," said Grace Davis.
Cantalician Center is known for doing activities traditionally done outside of school during the school day such as carnivals, Thanksgiving feasts, and trick or treating. It allows the students to do things that other kids get to do that may be overwhelming for them in a public setting.
"We love that Cantalician does this, because things like trickor treating might be difficult to do in public due to sensory or behavior issues, but the students still get to experience it," said Grace Davis. "They also take the students on field trips to places like the Erie County Fair that are sometimes challenging for parents to handle alone. Because Cantalician does this, we feel like our son doesn't get to miss out on any activities and outings that other kids get to do."
Today, Brayden is 8 years-old and continuing to make strides in a 3rd grade classroom setting with Cantalician Center Teacher Angela Babiak. Grace said she is excited for the future with the possibility of the formation of a Parent Teacher Organization as it will help to talk with other parents going through similar experiences with their child with disabilities.
"From our amazing Medicaid Service Coordinator, MSC, Wendy[Thompson] at Cantalician who is working with us to get Brayden out into the community more to its excellent on staff nurses who ease our fears when it comes to his medical needs. We are so fortunate that our son gets to go to Cantalician and we look forward to seeing him learn and grow for years to come.