“Britney was delayed in many areas. She didn’t walk until she was two. She didn’t stop bottle feeding until she was four. Through it all, the staff at the Institute took her delays in stride and helped her achieve the next milestone.” --Keena Johnson, Britney's mom
Britney Johnson is a joyful child. A push in the swing produces a megawatt smile. Tell her a joke,and she laughs heartily. Read her a funny story, and she chuckles along with her classmates. Converse with her, and her dry sense of humor shines through.Britney draws you in—partly because of her winning personality and partly because of her triumph over adversity. At age six, Britney has been fighting her way through challenges her entire life—multiple hospital stays and surgeries, endless doctor appointments, blindness, jaundice, bladder and stomach issues, intestinal infections, and a collapsed lung.
Still, she smiles.
Britney arrived four months early, tipping the scales at only 1 pound 5 ounces. “Britney weighed less than a loaf of bread,” says her mom Keena. Britney spent her first five months in the neonatal intensive care unit with her family constantly at her side. “We were given little hope that she would survive. At one point a few weeks after birth, we were told her kidneys had shut down. If she didn’t urinate within the next 24 hours, she probably wouldn’t make it. At hour 23,she filled her diaper and then some. She’s been defying the odds ever since.”
As the side effects of Britney’s prematurity have become revealed more fully, her mother says her primary diagnosis is retinopathy of prematurity, or ROP. ROP is a blinding eye disorder that involves abnormal blood vessel growth and is a condition common in severely premature babies.
In addition to complete blindness, Britney has developmental and cognitive delays. During her five years at Siskin Children’s Institute, Britney’s teachers—Ms. Hayley,Ms. Betsy, Ms. Mary Ann, Ms. Emma and Mr. Ryan—provided early intervention that helped Britney prepare for her next step in life. “Britney was delayed in many areas,” says Keena. “She didn’t walk until she was two. She didn’t stop bottle feeding until she was four. Through it all, the staff at the Institute took her delays in stride and helped her achieve the next milestone.”
Because of the early intervention she received, Britney was prepared for Kindergarten in the fall of 2011. She is now in an inclusive classroom in an area public school and is learning and growing side-by-side her typically developing peers just as she did at the Institute.
During her last year at the Institute, Britney’s vision therapist visited weekly to begin the rudiments of learning Braille. The therapy was offered within her classroom setting surrounded by her teachers and class friends. The therapist worked directly with Britney but also with Britney’s teachers so they could observe and continue the techniques throughout the day. Britney’s classmates got the collateral benefit of observing the therapy, and Britney benefited by not being segregated from her friends. This approach is called integrated therapy and is one of the components of the Institute’s Engagement Classroom Model, an evidenced- based approach to early childhood learning developed by Institute researchers.
Now three weeks into Kindergarten, the foundation for Braille learning that was begun at the Institute is paying dividends. Britney works with a therapist in her new school. She is learning to type the alphabet on a Braille writer and works on recognition of the raised letters on a page using her fingertips. “She already has mastered up to the letter D,” says Keena.
“We don’t cut Britney any slack because she has special needs. We believe that she will strive to achieve if our expectations for her are high,” says Keena. The staff at Siskin Children’s Institute shared that philosophy, and so do her kindergarten teacher and aide. “Don’t get me wrong; we’re not in denial that Britney has delays. Our goal is simple: We want Britney to be whatever her 100 percent is,” says Keena.
Britney is well on her way and is doing it with a heart filled with joy and a smile on her face.