Rising Up Strong for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities

A group of OSU students and Rising Up Strong participants

Rising Up Strong for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities

By Colleen Bradley, Communications Intern

Watching her sister with autism grow up and interact with the world, along with her passion for inclusivity and deep interest in the medical field, led Christine Chilaka, a second-year medical student at Ohio State, to develop the Rising Up Strong program to help teach health and wellness to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Chilaka collaborated with Dr. Susan Havercamp, director of Health Promotion and Health Care Parity at The Ohio State University Nisonger Center, to create the program as part of the Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellows Program. Chilaka and Havercamp noticed there were health and wellness programs for students, but rarely programs tailored to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"Children with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a higher risk of poor nutrition, poor oral health, and obesity compared to children without disabilities," explains Havercamp. "Because of their disability, these children are often excluded from health promotion programs."

Last summer, Rising Up Strong partnered with Columbus City Schools and their summer care program for students with multiple disabilities. Every morning for two weeks, Rising Up Strong partners entered the classroom and taught fourth and fifth graders, as well as middle schoolers.

The program focuses on teaching students about health and wellness topics such as physical activity, nutrition, physician checkups, and coping with stress through different activities. From making their own salad to performing theatrical plays to using drums to signify heartbeats, the students are receiving hands-on experience in a fun, interactive way. The activities try to target different parts of the brain, including verbal, visual, and aural stimuli in order to provide a comprehensive learning experience.

In the classroom, Rising Up Strong uses a universal learning design, which creates an educational environment that can adapt to individual learning differences. Chilaka says this is an important part of inclusivity, "because in special education classes everyone has a different mode of learning, it is one of the main aspects of the program to make sure everyone can participate and benefit from the teaching."

In order to measure the program's impact on the students, they conducted a study to see if going through this program would increase both health and wellness knowledge, as well as positive attitudes about health and wellness.

After analyzing the results of the study, Chilaka proudly explains, "Students were able to identify healthy foods versus unhealthy foods, were able to identify proper tools to use when showering, and when to brush your teeth."

One student was so excited to tell her that he flossed for the first time after the oral health lesson. The program also received great reviews when looking at areas related to teaching the objectives and reaching the students.

While Chilaka formed the program, she could not execute it without her Ohio State student volunteers, who come from numerous colleges and departments. Volunteering for this program is "for anyone who has a passion to teach and to help students who often times aren't talked about when it comes to a lot of health issues," says Chilaka. "Rising Up Strong is really trying to allow these individuals to be autonomous in their health and there are so many ways to teach individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities so that they can understand, for example, instead of having all of this candy, I'll have this fruit."


To see videos, posters and descriptions of all of the programs from the 2019-20 Columbus-Athens Schweitzer Fellows, click here.


To join or learn more about the Steering Committee for Rising Up Strong email risingupstrongosu@gmail.com.