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Center for Independence in Pine Township helping children cope

Deborah Deasy | Pine Creek Journal
Dr. Abigail Schlesinger, 39, medical director of the new Center for Independence, which is operated by Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in Pine, understands the issues children face when dealing with anxieties, learning disabilities and delayed development.

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Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2012, 8:54 p.m.

Dr. Abigail Schlesinger understands the challenges faced by children with anxieties, learning disabilities or delayed development.

That's why she became a psychiatrist.

“I had family members with attention deficit disorder, and my mother had trouble getting treatment for them,” said Schlesinger, 39, of Meridian, Butler County, who now make a career of helping families find such help.

Schlesinger is medical director of the new Center for Independence operated by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at Pine Center in Pine.

The center opened July 1 in a second-floor suite of the Pine Center to serve children, up to age 18, with mild to moderate developmental or behavioral problems.

Schlesinger plans to offer group therapy sessions, for example, for children already receiving therapy on an individual bases from a psychologist or psychiatrist, speech, physical or occupational therapist.

A goal of the Center for Independence is to provide an opportunity for children to practice, in a group setting, physical to behavioral skills that they're learning during individual therapy sessions.

“We know that putting kids around their peers is the best way to help them succeed,” Schlesinger said.

Schlesinger planned to kick off Center for Independence programs this week with sessions for a small group of children preparing to enter school.

She expected participants to practice such classroom skills as sharing, sitting still and using devices.

A child diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, for example, may have trouble sitting still or following multiple steps of instruction.

“We have a lot of kids who have trouble adjusting to new foods. They don't like how it feels in their mouth,” Schlesinger said. “If there's anxiety in the child, it can make it worse ... Anxiety disorders are the most common. “

Obsessive-compulsive behaviors also are common, Schlesinger said.

After the widely publicized 2009 outbreak of the H1N1 influenza virus, “kids became afraid to touch doorknobs,” Schlesinger said. “We have kids who wash their hands a lot. We have kids who are afraid they're going to throw up, so they don't want to go to a restaurant.”

The Center for Independence plans to offer programs for children facing such challenges, along with issues related to feeding and grooming themselves, plus, a “chatterbox” group to help autistic children learn communication and social interaction skills.

“We know that putting kids around their peers is the best way to help them succeed,” said Schlesinger.

The Center for Independence is among a growing number of outpatient services available through the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh at Pine Center.

Bernard Patter son of Ross said he's pleased with the speech therapy his 3-year-old daughter Lucia receives through Children's Hospital at the Pine Center.

“The outpatient therapy just seems to be better than at-home therapy,” Patterson said. “There are less distractions.”

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh also offers a dermatology and acne treatment clinic at Pine Center, plus Children's Community Pediatrics, where approximately 100 physicians see children for routine checkups, and can refer children to occupational, physical and speech therapists, ophthalmologists, mental health professionals and specialists in multiple areas of neurodevelopment.

For information on child and family counseling services, call 724-933-3910.

Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or

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