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Meet Ottawa kindergartener Devyn and learn how SRRC helps him with autism

Five-year-old Devyn Yanko, a Lincoln Elementary School kindergarten student, was named Starved Rock Regional Center for Therapy and Child Development ambassador for 2021.

Devyn, of Ottawa, likes routines, is sensory sensitive and enjoys talking about landmarks, Godzilla, transportation vehicles, animals and presidents.

Devyn’s mother, Janice, turned to the SRRC for help after he was diagnosed with autism this past August.

While he received therapy at school, Janice wanted additional help and with their insurance unable to cover the cost of therapy, the SRRC provides a sliding fee scale for families based on income, which allowed Devyn to attend weekly speech therapy with Sarah Baker and occupational therapy with Elena Gaeta.

“We are working towards all Devyn’s goals and have seen improvement with slowing down and taken breaths and apologizing when he is aggressive,” Gaeta said. “Prior to starting therapy, Devyn didn’t consistently express his feelings, but rather lashed out. Devyn’s upsets are significantly shorter than before he started therapy and he recovers more quickly.”

Therapy has helped Devyn become more social, helping him share, take turns, answer questions and tell stories. Therapists have been able to work on fears like haircuts, using the potty, loud sounds, touching messy things and using social stories and pretend play.

Devyn is working towards becoming more flexible, winning and losing during games, listening, understanding his emotions, and managing big reactions by understanding the difference between big problems and little problems, and figuring out how to fix the problem.

“We work on following rules and boundaries,” Gaeta said. “Transitions used to be really difficult, but they are so much better.”

Gaeta said Devyn likes to know what to expect and therapy is a safe zone for him to explore his fears and challenges while also having fun.

Janice said Devyn calls Elena and Sarah his best friends, and he enjoys his time at SRRC. He looks forward to visiting them every week.

“Everyone here truly cares about Devyn and it shows,” Janice said. “They have helped me as a parent immensely. I have gained so many skills to help Devyn through his bad days.”

Janise said Sarah and Elena have taught her how to comfort him, calm him and redirect him.

“With the help of SRRC and his therapists at Lincoln, I feel confident that Devyn will develop the skills he needs to live a fulfilling and independent life,” Janice said.

SRRC has provided therapy services to children ages 0 to 3 through the early intervention program, and through the years it became apparent there was a need for additional therapies for school-aged children. The agency fills that gap now and provides speech and occupational therapy for children ages 0 to 18. The therapies are covered by most insurance companies and a sliding fee scale is offered to those without insurance.

“Thanks to the support of the community, kids like Devyn are able to receive the extra help they need,” reads a Wednesday news release. “Without SRRC, families may be forced to travel great distances to get the services they need. This would make it nearly impossible for parents to work and would cause financial strain due to missed work and cost of travel.”

SRRC is hosting its 12th annual Black and White Ball, which is an opportunity to help these families. All 2021 registrants will receive a discount code toward tickets to the 2022 ball.

Register to bid or make a donation at

Auctions will run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27. Auction links will be sent via email 24 hours prior to the opening bids. For questions, send emails to

SRRC provides developmental, speech and occupational therapy services to children who have a developmental delay or are at risk for developmental delay. Screenings are provided free of charge in Ottawa and at locations throughout La Salle and Bureau counties.

It also has a structured toddler class in Ottawa for 2-year olds, a child care center in Ottawa for children with and without special needs from six months old until 12-years-old and beyond if there is a special need, and an Autism Resource Center on-site in Ottawa. Its mission is to provide quality services to children with and without special needs and their families so that they have equal opportunity to live, learn and play in their community.

Source: The Daily Chronicle

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