This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of Erikson on Children under the headline “Investing in young children: The Mongerson Family.”
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Earlier this year, Henry Mongerson invited friends and family to a party celebrating his seventh birthday. The invitation included a special request: please make a donation to Erikson Institute instead of birthday gifts.

Henry’s connection to Erikson began two years before that, when he was five years old. Henry was a bright, curious, and active child, but his mother, Sara, began to wonder if something wasn’t quite right. Occasionally behavior issues would pop up, both at home and in school.

Sara and Henry began working with a developmental specialist, Sara Sladjoe, M.S. ’05, at the suggestion of Henry’s pediatrician, Dr. Meryl Perlman. Sladjoe, Perlman, and Henry’s teacher at The Montessori Academy of Chicago all suggested that Henry also undergo a full developmental diagnostic assessment at Erikson’s Center for Children and Families.

Henry saw the Center’s team of interdisciplinary specialists who assessed him from all standpoints — physical, developmental, social, emotional, and cognitive. “The assessment was a lot of fun for Henry. It was just like he was playing with all the specialists,” says Sara. “He wanted to come back after the assessment to play the games again.”

Members of the team also observed Henry in school and at the Center, and interviewed his parents and teachers. After the assessment, Center staff put together a comprehensive report for Henry, including recommendations for ocular therapy.

Clinical psychologist Laura Brock was a member of the assessment team. “We looked at all aspects of Henry’s life to figure out what really was happening, and helped connect him to recommended services,” she says. “Throughout it all, his family continued to provide the loving support he needed.”

Today, the behavior issues Sara noticed have subsided. Henry still attends ocular therapy, but he is much more interested these days in drawing, playing with his four-year-old sister, and the world-building game Minecraft.

A party for good

As Henry’s seventh birthday party approached, his parents, Sara and Tyler, explained to him that some children aren’t as fortunate as he is. They asked him to choose an organization where his party guests could make donations instead of giving him a gift.

Henry chose Erikson.

“Tyler and I want to teach our children that as future adults, they need to be part of the community and give back as they can,” says Sara. This lesson is reinforced at Henry’s school, where Henry has taken part in book drives and other community projects.

At his birthday party — which was filled with pizza, cupcakes, and remote control cars — party guests brought cash and checks for Erikson. Several weeks afterward, Sara and Henry returned to Erikson to personally present the gifts to the Institute.

“It’s so important to give back,” says Sara. “Henry really appreciates that the gifts from his party will help children just like him.”