MassMutual’s SpecialCare: Helping caregivers make life-care planning decisions for dependents with special needs
Michael Sousou, SpecialCare Planner with MassMutual Southeast Coast, shared his expertise with families attending Over the Edge At ONE DAYTONA earlier this month in Daytona Beach.
Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual)’s SpecialCare was a sponsor of the annual fundraising event benefiting Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida and The NASCAR Foundation. While cheering on rappelers, Sousou distributed information about MassMutual’s SpecialCare program for people with disabilities and other special needs and their families.
A financial professional, Sousou has received special training in estate and tax planning concepts, special needs trusts and government programs. He explained that through SpecialCare, parents’ and guardians’ dreams for their loved one with disabilities are put in place in the event they are no longer able to care for their dependent.
“We assist parents who have children with special needs, or adults with special needs, by helping them maintain their government benefits like SSI and Medicaid and by assisting them in establishing special needs trusts,” said Sousou. “A special needs trust allows parents (or any donor) to put assets in the trust for the child with special needs. And, no matter how much is in the trust for the dependent’s benefit, they can still qualify for their government assistance, too.”
SpecialCare helps parents and guardians by educating them about things such as how to maintain benefits for their children with disabilities from birth through adulthood, and a special needs trust is a key strategy. The trusts are created to supplement – not supplant – government benefits.
Another popular product offered by SpecialCare Planners is life insurance.
“One of the unique products we offer is life insurance for the parent or guardian of the child with special needs, and in those policies, we include the special needs trust as the beneficiary of the policy,” he said. “So, if something happens to the parent or guardian, the life insurance policy pays into the trust and it’s used to cover expenses for the benefit of the dependent with special needs.”
“These policies can give parents and guardians a feeling of confidence,” said Sousou.
Sousou holds workshops throughout the region to educate parents and guardians about MassMutual’s SpecialCare offerings. He simplifies the perceived complexities and walks hand in hand through the program with families.
“In the end, it’s well worth it to many families because they have the confidence of knowing that, no matter what happens to the parent or whomever is taking care of the individual with special needs, they can be taken care of for life. It’s about more than lifetime care, which is what government benefits provide; it’s about maintaining a desired quality of life for their loved one.
SpecialCare Planners like Michael Sousou help clients:
To learn more about MassMutual’s SpecialCare program, contact Michael Sousou at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 904-621-0445.
Easterseals thanks MassMutual SpecialCare for its continued support and sponsorship of Over the Edge At ONE DAYTONA.
Local firms are sales offices of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), and are not subsidiaries of MassMutual or its affiliated companies. Easterseals is not a subsidiary or affiliated of MassMutual or its affiliated companies. CRN202011-239998
Shae Asby’s skillset bridges the gaps of understanding between people throughout Central Florida, and it’s a love of language and culture that fuels her work.
An ASL Interpreter and Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida team member, Asby said the decision to pursue a career in sign-language came easy to her.
“Since high school, I have gravitated towards culture and language; both aspects are beautiful and interesting. I wanted to become a part of it,” she said.
Asby graduated from Valencia State College with an AA in ASL/English Interpreting and from the University of North Florida with a B.A. in ASL/English Interpreting.
Today, Asby works in the community on behalf of Easterseals and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services. Clients are from all walks of life.
Asby and her ASL teammates are available to support members of the Deaf community who need to connect to a hearing person or group, or by hearing individuals who aim to communicate with those who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Easterseals and Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services provide qualified interpreters such as Asby and her ASL teammates for such needs as medical appointments and related circumstances; personal situations and communication; and classes, seminars and vocational training.
There’s no typical day in the life of an Interpreter, said Asby. Her team reviews community needs and assignments and allocates Interpreters accordingly. No two days are the same, and Asby loves that about the work.
“I love every aspect of my job,” she said. “The people, the company, the language, the challenges, the cultures and never really knowing what one will walk into. Every assignment is vastly different.”
Even if every assignment on a given day is medical, they still greatly vary and are different and special, said Asby.
She and her fellow Interpreters are called upon to enlist tools that facilitate communication between all parties, no matter the circumstances. “Every customer requires special consideration,” said Asby, adding the need to adapt to each person’s individual needs is the most challenging and best part of the work.
“A primary goal for any and all assignments, no matter the consumer, is accessible communication,” said Asby. “All parties involved need to understand one another in a smooth, fluid fashion. That’s what I am there for. “
To learn more about ASL Interpreter services available through Easterseals or Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, or details about upcoming sign-language classes, email Shae Asby at email@example.com or Program Manager Michelle Bucalos at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The holiday season can be a time of great joy, but for children with sensory issues, new schedules and once-a-year happenings can spell a-n-x-i-e-t-y.
To reduce that possibility, Easterseals offers eight strategies to help parents and guardians and their sensory-sensitive children enjoy this festive season:
1. Prepare a schedule. A verbal, visual or handwritten schedule is imperative for busy days with sensory-sensitive children, particularly days that include multiple transitions and activities that may be unfamiliar to your child. Discussing events in advance and reviewing them several times can help a child understand what’s next, clarify expectations and reduce anxiety. Using social stories that include the timeline, activities and who’ll be attending can be comforting for children. Encourage questions and plan for any foreseen obstacles.
2. Be mindful of your child’s sensory needs. Try to avoid predictably stressful scenarios. For example, if your child does not like crowds, try shopping early in the morning or at night. If loud noises bother your child, try a smaller venue, or offer ear plugs or noise-reducing headphones. Determine a “break area” to serve as a safe escape as needed in case your child becomes overstimulated or overwhelmed.
3. Enlist your “village.” Have a family meeting and discuss holiday plans/activities that include your child. Discuss expectations with your family and problem solve potential obstacles in advance with them.
4. Prioritize sleep and meal schedules. Try not to deviate too much from your child’s daily schedule, with special attention to meal and nap/bed times. Keeping these predictable and scheduled as usual will pay off when it’s time to transition back to school, too.
5. Take proactive breaks. Locate a calm space/relax zone for each place you go and when possible, determine it in advance. Bring your child’s comfort toy(s) and identify a code word that your child can use to indicate they’re distressed. These often provide children with a sense of control and can reduce anxiety. Many meltdowns have been avoided by taking pro-active breaks.
6. Keep your child comfortable. Pack comfort items for your child when they’re out and about. These may include a favorite toy, book, music or coloring supplies. Bring extra items for your child to share with others to encourage socialization, too. If your child loves to play on your smartphone or another digital device, limit its use and only provide it during agreed-upon times (unless the device is used for communication with you).
7. Stay on track-food sensitivities: If your child has food allergies or sensitivities that may prevent them from enjoying holiday treats, bring alternatives enough to share.
8. Keep your holiday décor simple: The holidays are filled with twinkling lights, festive music and many new scents. To acclimate your child to changes in their home environment, for example, involve them in decorating. Allow them to help decide what and where holiday décor should be placed. Involving them in decision making gives a child a sense of control and can lead to some great “ah-ha” moments between you, too.
Happy Holidays from Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida! We wish you all the love and joy the season brings.
by Angela F. Williams, Easterseals blog writer
People with disabilities of all genders, races, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnicities have a history of making the world and our communities richer, better places. What potential do we then lose when we allow barriers to prevent our fellow humans from participating?
Some of the most groundbreaking inventions and innovations throughout human history have been inspired and conceived by people with disabilities. Some of these figures are household names: Thomas Edison, Temple Grandin, Albert Einstein, Leonardo Da Vinci and Stephen Hawking. But while many of the contributions of people with disabilities are in the mainstream, their names are often left out of the history textbooks and out of the conversation.
I recently came across a New York Times article that told the story of the OXO brand; A husband and wife teamed up to create a product that would be comfortable for Betsy, the wife, to hold (she had arthritis). As a result, they came up with a line of kitchen products based on the philosophy of universal design. While I had seen the company’s products lining the shelves of many major department stores, the story behind it, and the fact that it was created for all hands, escaped me. According to the article, it has somehow escaped many people, too. This is just one of the many stories of inventions born of necessity for people with disabilities but ultimately adopted by people of all abilities. See also: The typewriter, text messaging, and the talking remote.
Even with all these accomplishments, the movement towards an accessible and inclusive society continues. Is our notion of what it means to contribute to society even inclusive of people with disabilities?
Right now, society is at a crossroads. People are paying closer attention to social issues that are important to them, looking for ways to be more involved. However, for society to continue to improve for all people living in it, we must face tough decisions about our institutions. Finding and removing the barriers within those institutions will be a challenging process.
At Easterseals, one barrier that is in the forefront of our minds is health care. Threats to Medicaid are looming, and additional cuts or caps to Medicaid will severely impact the services we provide. In fact after past cuts to Medicaid, 62% of our clients surveyed (including individuals with disabilities and seniors) were unable to access services like employment and training programs due to a lack of community provider options. We grapple with this reality while still working with people with disabilities to overcome barriers, some of which are societal in nature. As a result, we support some of society’s most powerful change agents. What kind of society will they want to create?
Michael, 34, an Easterseals Thrive supporter and freelance writer, said, “Traditionally, if you ask someone what they do, they’ll talk about their job. A lot of avenues are closed to me due to my mental health and to a lesser extent my physical health. My depression has significantly hindered my ability to succeed in academics which has, in turn, closed a lot of doors for me to achieve gainful employment. This further exacerbates my depression.
“Individuals are capable of contributing in more ways than economically. Simply being a good friend or an emotional support for other people can be a means of adding to society. Being someone who other people can rely on when they’re having a rough time is a remarkably useful ability. I think that this form of emotional labor has been undervalued traditionally, but that it is finally starting to come around as a viable source of worth for one’s self and within a community.”
Rebekah Petrick, Marketing Director at Chick-fil-A Ormond Towne Square, was on site during Over the Edge AT ONE DAYTONA Nov. 2-3. She cheered brave Edgers (including Chick-fil-A Cow), welcomed non-rappelers to the “Chicken Coop” photo booth and distributed Chick-fil-A goodies to young fans (and young-at-heart fans, too).
Petrick is a familiar face around the community; Chick-fil-A Town Square is an engaged local business that hosts and supports several family-friendly events throughout the year.
Some of the Ormond Towne Square’s Chick-fil-A’s most popular events, said Petrick, include its recent Fall Festival, the ongoing “Soda Pop with a Cop” program, Spirit Nights and upcoming “Light up Ormond Beach.” Petrick oversees all the fun.
“Our most popular event has been our annual Fall Festival, which entails community vendor participation, face painting and photo contests,” said Petrick. Online during the Festival, families were invited to post their favorite fall photo and tag the store’s Facebook page for a chance to win SeaWorld tickets, too. Community organizations that participated in the Fall Festival included Ormond Beach Police & Fire Department, YMCA, Schmancy's Pops, Calvary Christian, Aqua Journey's Swimming School and Humana.
Another popular attraction at Chick-fil-A Ormond Towne Square is “Soda Pop with a Cop.” Petrick and her team welcomes community members to have a soda with Ormond Beach Police Officers. The store offers a free Chick-fil-A 4ct Kid’s Meal for each child in attendance. Of course, no Chick-fil-A event would be complete without the Chick-fil-A Cow, who always makes a special appearance.
On Monday, Nov. 19, the community is invited to celebrate the Christmas season for “Light Up Ormond” at Chick-fil-A Ormond Towne Square. From 6-8 p.m., guests can check out the store’s amazing light display, enjoy crafts, Santa Cow and more. Fans who tag their photos with #lightupormond during the event and accumulate the most likes by 4 p.m. on Nov. 20, will receive a Chick-fil-A surprise that will include four SeaWorld Tickets. Check out event details on the store’s Facebook page.
Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida, The NASCAR Foundation and Over the Edge At ONE DAYTONA thank Rebekah Petrick, the brave Chick-fil-A Cow and the Chick-fil-A Ormond Towne Square team for helping make our November 2-3 event so fun and memorable.
Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida recently announced that through early intervention and targeted education in collaboration with several community partners it has seen a significant reduction in the age of autism diagnosis in the children in our communities over the past 18 months.
In July 2017, the average age of children diagnosed with Autism by Easterseals in Volusia and Flagler Counties was 7.9 years old. (The average age of diagnosis across the country is 4.8 years old). From July 1, 2017 through Aug. 31, 2018, due to a targeted effort toward parent and caregiver education, Easterseals Northeast Central Florida saw a decrease in the age of diagnosis to 5.87 years old. Children presenting for diagnosis ranged in age from 18 months - 18 years.
Easterseals is the Help Me Grow Volusia-Flagler affiliate at United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties, the agency to whom the data was reported.
“Early identification and intervention of autism is crucial in order to maximize a child’s development and progress,” said Dorothy Lefford, OTR/L, VP Clinical Services at Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida. “Research shows early intervention makes a big difference to a child’s development leading to improved outcomes for children with autism, including higher intelligence, adaptive skills, and increased social and daily living skills.”
“We are thrilled that our Help Me Grow Volusia-Flagler affiliate at United Way of Volusia-Flagler Counties was a part of the effort that helped reduce the age of detection for autism in Volusia county from 7.9 to 5.8 this year,” Help Me Grow Florida posted recently on its Facebook page, adding that “early detection and intervention are key in autism treatment.”
The local leader in autism resources, Easterseals is teaching parents how to incorporate these research-based techniques into homelife and prioritizes educating parents and caregivers. Strategies that the highly recognized Easterseals’ Autism Center of Excellence employs include Autism Early Diagnostic and Functional Assessment Clinic, The PLAY Project (Play and Language for Autistic Youngsters), ASK: Autism Strategies Know-How behavior-modification educational clinics, TR-eat® Model (Transdisciplinary Effective Assessment and Treatment) behavior strategies for food aversion, free “ACT Now!” Autism Community Training events that offer CEU opportunities for staff and direct consultation with Easterseals’ autism experts, and more.
Autism Center of Excellence in Daytona Beach and serves more than 500 children annually who have been diagnosed with autism. It’s premier local resource for diagnosis, interventions, resource and referral and case management for children who were referred by their physician for evaluation of autism spectrum disorder.
To learn more about Easterseals’ autism services and its Autism Center of Excellence, visit its webpage or call (386) 944-7833.
Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida serves more than 17,500 individuals and families with a range of disabilities to achieve their full potential. Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida serves the region with facilities in Daytona Beach, DeLand, Bunnell, and Leesburg. To learn more about Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida, please visit www.eastersealsnecfl.org or connect to our online community on Facebook.
If you saw people dangling on ropes from the 102-foot International Motorsports Center in Daytona Beach last week, your eyes weren’t deceiving you. In fact, dozens of rappelers went “Over the Edge” of the 8-story building in support of Easterseals of Northeast Central Florida and The NASCAR Foundation. By all accounts, the 2nd Annual Over the Edge at ONE DAYTONA was a huge success!
On Friday and Saturday, Nov. 2-3, Edgers who had sponsored the event, or who had individually fundraised for their spot, took their place on the ropes for two action-packed days across from Daytona International Speedway.
The event raised more than $131,000 for the two charities and countless supporters learned what it takes to “Be Brave for Courageous Kids!”
First to rappel was longtime Easterseals champion Sheryl Cook, who rappelled alongside NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee Rusty Wallace. Sheryl is the top individual fundraiser in the 2018 event, collecting more than $13,800. She’s a longtime Easterseals board member, honorary past chair & Lily Award recipient and lifelong Easterseals volunteer.
Another notable moment on the ropes was the challenge between Daytona Beach Police Chief Craig Capri – a first-time Edger – and Volusia County Sheriff Michael Chitwood – a second-time Edger. Both successfully fundraised for their spot on the ropes. And, are you wondering who made it down the building first? We’ll never tell.
Over the Edge sponsors made the event possible! They include Victory Lane Sponsor Jeep Beach (jeepbeach.com); Landing Zone Sponsors The Daytona Beach News-Journal (news-journalonline.com), NASCAR (NASCAR.com), KIX Country 98.7 FM, Beach 92.7 FM, Bill Voges and Family, and Halifax Health; Building Sponsor International Speedway Corporation (internationalspeedwaycorporation.com); Volunteer Lounge Sponsor SpecialCare by MassMutual (massmutual.com/planning/topics/specialcare), and Media Sponsors WHOG 95.7 FM, WLOV 99.5 FM, HOT 94.1 FM, 103.3 The Vibe, and 93.1 Coast Country (daytonaradio.com). We thank these sponsors for their support and encourage you to learn more about the above businesses. Please support them with your patronage.
Mark your calendars for the 3rd annual Over the Edge at ONE DAYTONA event, to be scheduled in fall 2019! Stay abreast of event updates at daytonaovertheedge.org. In the meantime, we welcome your engagement with Easterseals year-round. Learn more about Easterseals and its programs by calling
386-255-4568, 1-877-255-4568 (toll-free) or 386-310-1157 (videophone); emailing email@example.com; or visiting us online at www.eastersealsnecfl.org.
Shhh…don’t tell the children, but when they play, they are doing their most important work.
That’s why Easterseals’ Early Step North Beaches offers free playgroups for local Early Steps children and their siblings through December.
The playgroups consist of circle time and gross motor time. Circle time is focused on enhancing cognitive, speech and peer interaction skill through songs, stories and sensory activities. Gross motor time uses mats, slides and balls to encourage children to jump, climb, balance and play.
Early Steps North Beaches offers playgroups through December in Flagler County and in east and west Volusia County:
· Flagler County – 1st Friday of the month from 10 – 11 a.m. Remaining date for 2018: Dec. 7. Location: 301 Justice Lane (Bldg. C), Bunnell, FL 32110
· West Volusia County – 3rd Tuesday of the month from 10 – 11 a.m. Remaining date for 2018: Nov. 15 and Dec. 20. Location: 156 McGregor Road, DeLand, FL 32720
· East Volusia County – 2nd Tuesday of the month from 10 – 11 a.m. Remaining date for 2018: Nov. 13, Dec. 11. Location: 1219 Dunn Ave., Daytona Beach, FL 32114
Caregivers must stay and participate with their child for the entire playgroup, and socks are required for playgroup playtime. For more details, contact Deanna M. McGrath, Early Steps Family Resource Specialist at 386-873-0365 X116 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.