Herculean strength, unbelievable speed, soaring flight…Superheroes tend to showcase the skills we humans simply can’t master. But the four superhero characters of St. Louis Arc's Superheroes for Kids represent something very real: the four main skills (walking, talking, reading and writing) the Arc is focused on teaching children who have developmental disabilities.
“The Capable Kids and Families program has been amazing for us,” says Valerie Southard, whose son, Joey, has been involved with Belle Children’s Services of the St. Louis Arc (formerly the Belle Center) since he was some 6 months old. “We have been able to borrow anything from therapy toys to expensive equipment.” They're the kinds of equipment, Southard says, that helped Joey, who has Down Syndrome, learn to sit and stand. In addition, other program perks are available to parents, such as skill-focused classes like potty-training and one-on-one family assistance, Southard says. “You have a person who is in charge of your family, and they check in with you once a month—they’re the most wonderful resource ever.”
John Taylor, the Arc's VP, says that supporting the family is key. “We work a lot with parents through parent-child classes. Beyond that, we have some fun things, like music therapy—which looks and sounds like frivolous fun, but really does a lot of good for kids.”
Southard describes the music therapy as small-group sessions with a music therapist and at least one Maryville University music therapy student in attendance, plus a handful of instruments. While plucking at the guitar—Joey’s favorite to play—or beating the drum, the children are able to work on their goals, such as standing or talking in sentences.
But the Arc’s emphasis isn't just on kids. “We serve the entire lifespan,” Taylor says. “A lot of organizations may pick either one age or facet of life—we are really here for the long haul. It can be challenging, but we feel being there through the various transitions of life—and being there for some continuity—is beneficial to families.” From employment to leisure, and all the way to residential, the Arc’s services run the support gamut.
Belle Children’s Services will benefit from the upcoming Superheroes for Kids event on April 24. Mary and David Steward II will co-chair the event; with St. Louis native David Giutoli, star of NBC’s show Grimm, serving as honorary chair. Now in its second year, the event features four superheroes custom-created by David Steward’s company, Lion Forge Comics, that each illustrate one of the main purposes of the service: teaching children to walk, talk, read and write. For his superhero-like work in autism and pediatrics, John Constantino, Washington University professor of child psychiatry, will be honored at the event.