Editor’s note: The Augusta Levy Learning Center will reopen in temporary quarters above the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley on Aug. 13, bringing an end to the house-call therapy that has been ongoing since one business day after a fire destroyed a previous hub in early July. The center invited Weelunk along on one of these visits. This is the story of how therapists and parents bridged an unanticipated gap.

Inside Landon Kovalski there is “yes” and “no.” There is, “I’d rather have this,” and, “I’d really prefer that.” The therapists at Augusta Levy Learning Center aren’t going to let even a fire stop such intentions from moving steadily to the surface.

“He could regress,” Skylar Patten said simply.

Sitting cross-legged works core muscles Landon needs to remain upright. That is one therapy that doesn’t require the use of expensive equipment, such as a destroyed light board that helped Landon develop a stronger connection between his eye and brain so that he can better express his preferences.

The behavioral therapist was sitting on a soft-carpeted floor of the Kovalski home, encouraging the 8-year-old to grip a green rubber ball for just a little longer this time. For a boy whose autism is complicated with sight and seizure-related conditions, developing an effective grasp is key to making his intentions known to others.

She was at the family’s home because homes are where therapy for Landon and 20 other Augusta Levy clients has occurred for the last two weeks. She and other therapists began doing house calls just one business day after fire destroyed the former church in North Wheeling that previously housed such activities.

And equipment.

“We lost a lot,” said Heather Kovalski, Landon’s mother, with a grimace. She mentioned a specific piece of equipment called a gait trainer, which is used to help Landon develop stronger walking skills. “The only one we had was there.”

Landon Kovalski, 8, walks with the assistance of behavior therapist Skylar Patten of Augusta Levy Learning Center. A gait trainer normally used for such purposes was destroyed in the fire that ravaged the center in early July. The Kovalskis lost more than $7,000 of such personally owned equipment in the fire and are unsure if any of it will be covered by insurance. Insurance or no, center Director Angie Wood said a capital campaign is imminent as the center hopes to buy land and build for the long term.

Including that trainer, Patten estimated the Kovalskis lost between $7,000 to $10,000 worth of personally owned equipment in the fire, for which insurance compensation is still pending. Other pieces include a large light board that was used to strengthen the nerve connection between Landon’s eyes and brain. As Landon is non-verbal, that board was a key step in allowing him to share his choices with the outside world.

Without such aids, Patten was using everything from the ball to Landon’s own body to keep his skills moving forward. Sitting cross-legged on the floor of the family playroom, for example, helped build the core muscles he needs to sit upright.

And, on this day at least, it didn’t take any equipment except for Patten’s own arms and legs to assist him in walking.

The playroom setting was another part of the problem, however. While it was technically a designated space for therapy, it was also smack in the middle of busy family life. Kovalski and husband Brent have two younger children, as well. A PJ-clad baby ambled through now and then, checking to see what his big brother was doing.

“It’s been a big change for all of us,” Kovalski said with a tired smile. In addition to having everyone plus a therapist at home, she has been trying to operate her business from there, as well, for the last two weeks. It’s been a stressful combination.

And, not just for the grown-ups. “He’s really lacking that emotional, social type of thing,” she said of Landon missing his August Levy friends. He’s cried more often and has been doing a repetitive clicking of his hand against his teeth, something he does when he’s stressed. “We all crave a routine.”

Routine is something center Director Angie Wood said will be returning soon. Therapy will be on a hiatus scheduled before the fire from late July until Aug. 13. After that, on-site sessions will resume in temporary quarters above the Children’s Museum of the Ohio Valley in the downtown. Still later, Wood said Augusta Levy will likely be looking for land to build a home of its own.

As the center relies on funding from medical insurance, grants and private donations, that will mean a capital campaign in the near future, not that Wood is worried about a lack of community support when it happens.

“He texted us the day of the fire and offered space to us,” Wood said of Mayor Glenn Elliot immediately stepping into the gap with office space located in a downtown building he owns. The Ohio County Public Library has additionally opened space for some therapy sessions.

Other outpourings of support have included supplies being stored at St. Michael Parish Church. Community members who want to donate such supplies can also do so online, through Amazon Wish List. Wood said to search for Augusta Levy Learning Center. A subcategory is Fire Relief.

“We’re just thankful for the community,” Wood said, “for the whole Ohio Valley.”

Kovalski said she is thankful for August Levy. “Knowing we have people who love him … is priceless.”

Heather Kovalski and Landon share a kiss as he wakes up from a brief nap in the playroom of their home. The playroom has also served as Landon’s therapy center since a fire destroyed therapy rooms at Augusta Levy Learning Center in early July.

(Photos by Nora Edinger)

Nora Edinger writes from Wheeling, W.Va., where she is part of a three-generation, two-species household. A long-time journalist, she now writes in a variety of print and e-venues, including her JOY Journal blog at noraedinger.com. Her first work of fiction, a Christian beach read called “Dune Girl,” is available on Amazon Kindle.



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