Updated February 17, 2008 10:55 p.m. PT
By AMBREEN ALI
Judith Bluestone embodies the Jefferson Awards program, which honors "ordinary people who do extraordinary things" for other people, though for a long time she felt anything but ordinary.
As a child she was painfully aware of her difference. Children mocked her and adults steered clear of the girl with slurred speech and seizures. But that didn't discourage Bluestone, who created simple activities to overcome her neuro-developmental difficulties.
Over the last 40 years, she has used that experience to develop a nondrug approach that is now sought out globally by teachers, doctors and academicians. Her organization, the HANDLE Institute International (Holistic Approach to NeuroDevelopment and Learning Efficiency) has a presence on five continents.
"If I could become a functional human being, most other people can, also," Bluestone, now 62, said.
If you know someone who deserves recognition for similarly noble efforts, nominate that person for a 2008 Jefferson award, sponsored locally by the P-I and Microsoft.
Q: Since winning the award, you've added "international" to your group's name. How has your work expanded?
Bluestone: Both local and international communities are becoming much more aware of and demanding HANDLE services. We have instructors teaching to all sorts of different cultures. Our teachings are translated to different languages. We've just got a trainer back who was in India, where the government asked us to present a workshop on autism. After teaching in Slovenia, another instructor said it is so easy to adapt the HANDLE approach to any culture.
Q: You mention the popularity of the HANDLE approach. What makes it unique?
Bluestone: It's a nondrug approach. We help strengthen the weaknesses in the ways in which two sides of the body and brain integrate. We are actually giving people little activities, very special ways of twiddling their thumbs or sucking through a straw. We're giving people ideas of small nuances or movements to work on the underlying neurological systems. As a result, the person's behavior can shift. The person becomes more functional.
Q: Is the bulk of your work training others, or are you working directly with clients?
Bluestone: We couldn't provide training if we didn't have a client base. The main reason that I'm involved in clinical work is to be able to use that experience to see what is working and what isn't. It helps us develop HANDLE programs tailored for different neuro-development profiles. All our therapies are home-based. We don't provide them; we educate the families or other caregivers on what they should be doing.
Q: Your story is full of so many successes. What are you biggest frustrations in this work?
Bluestone: The struggle to stay financially viable and to be able to provide services to people who don't have the money for them. Because we don't use any products, nobody is really going to endorse us. The only gain is societal well-being, and for so many in our society that's not what they're willing to put their money in these days. But if we have more functional human beings giving to society, rather than pulling away from it, that's a huge gain for all.
Name: Judith Bluestone
Project/accomplishment: Founded The HANDLE Institute International (Holistic Approach to NeuroDevelopment and Learning Efficiency) to help braindamaged individuals.
Jefferson Award year: 2004 (national winner)
P-I reporter Ambreen Ali can be reached at 206-448-8247 or firstname.lastname@example.org.