2014 Community Grant Spotlight: Giant Steps

Pictured left: Dan Dahlke and Joy Cooper, of Giant Steps, speak about Giant Steps at the grants reception luncheon at the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation headquarters in January 2015. Photo courtesy of Mike Tercha Photography.

Pictured left: Dan Dahlke and Joy Cooper, of Giant Steps, speak about Giant Steps at the grants reception luncheon at the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation headquarters in January 2015. Photo courtesy of Mike Tercha Photography.

Through its Community Grants Program, the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation provides grants to Illinois nonprofit organizations as part of its mission to improve the oral health of children in the state.  In 2014, the Foundation awarded $99,884 in community grants to 12 Illinois organizations, including Giant Steps. Giant Steps, based in Lisle, is an organization that focuses on providing excellent educational and therapeutic services for children, teens and adults living with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), as well as autism training and outreach services for the greater community.

Giant Steps received a $4,000 grant to help with the expansion of its current partnership with the DuPage County Health Department and their dental program.  Through this partnership, Giant Steps offers education and training workshops to further assist and support dental professionals who treat individuals with ASD and other special needs.  These specialized training workshops, which include visual materials, help dental professionals make dental visits a more positive experience for individuals with ASD and special needs.

We had the opportunity to meet with Joy Cooper, a member of the Giant Steps training department team and an advocate for individuals with ASD, to discuss how the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation community grant has impacted Giant Steps.  As a major figure within the school and a key training session speaker, Cooper experiences the grant’s impact firsthand. “Having the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation grant, we are able to educate the dental community and help them support our families to make it less daunting and less difficult to bring their loved ones to receive dental care. The impact is endless,” says Cooper.  “In terms of improving overall health, oral health, and their overall lives really, it impacts everything.”

Giant Steps also regularly invites dental offices to visit the school to help familiarize their students with a dental setting.  During these meetings, students can see tools used during a dental exam, hear sounds a dental tool makes and interact with the dental tools on models of mouths and even their hands. These important meetings help to prepare students for the real thing.  Giant Steps currently works with dental offices in Downers Grove, Naperville, Oak Park and Chicago.

Many of the Giant Steps students visit dental offices as part of their community outings with the school as they become more comfortable with the idea of preventive care.  There has been much success with these pre-dental visits.  Cooper recalls one child who struggled to visit a dental office for a regular cleaning for years.  After taking part in these outings, the student visited a dental office and was able to make it through the majority of a cleaning without having to be put under general anesthesia for the first time ever.  His parents were thrilled, saying “We got him to his first dental exam in years!”

In partnership with the DuPage County Health Department, Giant Steps will be at the Chicago Dental Society’s 151st Midwinter Meeting in February 2016.  Cooper and the Giant Steps team plan to highlight the most important aspects of their dental training pieces, as well as educate a much larger group of the dental community about dental office visits for people with ASD and special needs.  Giant Steps wants to expand the training program to other Illinois cities with the goal of reaching a larger audience.

“It’s really incredible the kind of programming that we can put together here and tie it with what Giant Steps’ students will be faced with in the community.  It was really heartwarming to hear how helpful the sessions were from the dentists and to take away the stigma that it’s difficult to work with people with autism.  It was nice to demystify that for this group,” says Cooper.

The Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation is proud and excited be part of such an enthusiastic and life-changing program that helps to improve the oral health of Illinois children.     

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