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posted: 10/7/2016 5:30 AM

Online respite training helps build 'networks of support'

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A training program that has helped 3,202 people learn how to give a break to special needs caregivers is going online to expand its reach.

The REST (Respite Education & Support Tools) program developed by the disability services nonprofit Marklund in Bloomingdale is available online through the Continuing Education Institute of Illinois.

The course, called REST Essentials, teaches how to provide temporary care for people with disabilities while the person's usual caregiver gets some relief.

Students learn how to build a relationship with the care recipient and caregiver, how to plan appropriate activities and manage behaviors, how to adapt items for ease of use and how to provide care safely.

Wendy Berk, REST program master trainer at Marklund, developed the online version of the course that's now available at geroed.networkofcare4elearning.org/ for $15 for the general public or $29 for professionals taking it to receive continuing education credit.

By using the programs, Berk said, loved ones of people with disabilities can rely less on state or nonprofit programs as they develop "their own networks of support."

REST courses so far have been offered at Marklund and at community centers in 21 states and Canada. Berk said Marklund decided to offer the class online to make it more accessible.

"Our ultimate goal is to make sure that respite is happening," Berk said.

Caregivers of people with disabilities who require constant assistance often don't get the support they need, Berk said, so respite can be an important lifeline.

The new REST Essentials online course is expected to take two hours and can be done at once or in segments.

Once someone completes the online class, Berk said he or she would be qualified to provide respite in a group, such as a drop-in program where parents can take their children with special needs for a few hours at a time.

Some suburban churches, such as First Baptist Church in Geneva and College Church in Wheaton, offer drop-in respite through a program called Buddy Breaks. And the Lisle nonprofit Respite Endowment Organization is planning to begin a new drop-in program at the Alive Center in Naperville early next year.

Students then can progress to the eight-hour REST Companion course offered in person to gain more skills.