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AWARE Ink Newsletter

Art, music, and sign language for Abby

Updated: Jun 8, 2021

Hello Everyone, meet Abby. She’s among the people AWARE serves through case management services (Pictured Abby and her art).

Rebecca Merfeld is Abby’s case manager. She has become well-acquainted with Abby and her mom, Robyn, during the last few years.

Rebecca says it’s part of her job as a case manager to visit often and build trusting relationships with each person she serves.

Getting to know each person and family, she helps generate goals that build upon each client’s strengths.

Strength in talent

Creativity is one of Abby’s most notable strengths. She’s an artist and a musician.

Piano and the harp are among the instruments she plays. The instruments are used as a tool for therapy to support her as a person with cerebral palsy. Playing helps stretch and lengthen her fingers (Pictured Abby playing the harp).

The music also acts as a way for Abby to express herself. Although she is a person who is deaf, she says that often hears music in her head. She can feel the sound in her body when she plays. The harp reverberates in her shoulder.

Abby’s talent extends to drawing and painting. Creating artwork is something she enjoyed as a child. Passion for art has continued into her adult life.

The 25 year old’s inspiration comes from her surroundings. Her colorful paintings feature animals and nature, including many paintings of her horse named Danny Boy. Danny Boy is highlighted in a story that Abby wrote. Both the art and story were printed in a book (Pictured Abby's book about Danny Boy).

Abby also creates art for Christmas cards that she sends to family and friends each year.

Rebecca said that she immediately connected with Abby through their love of art.

Recently, the two exchanged artwork. Abby made Rebecca a beautiful watercolor painting of a man sitting under a tree. And Rebecca made Abby a custom papier-mâché mask that features an Egyptian wolf. Abby wore it on Halloween.

Strength in family

Rebecca said that Abby is lucky to have a strong support system. Her mom, Robyn, is her number one champion (Pictured from left Rebecca, Abby, and Robyn).

Abby was born with cerebral palsy. Growing up, Robin described how she reached out to a number of people and places to receive services to ensure Abby could live and grow successfully.

Robyn said she feels as if services for people with disabilities are limited in Montana. She is grateful for the support family and friends have offered throughout the years. Among the challenges she and Abby have faced is communication.

Having limited communication, made it hard for Abby who wanted to make friends.

Learning sign language was an important skill they both learned, so Abby could reach out to the world easier. Robyn often acts as Abby’s translator.

Robyn and Abby communicate using Signing Exact English (SEE) sign language. They learned at the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind. It’s different from American Sign Language (ALS). SEE matches the English language as it is spoken, whereas ALS has its own grammar, phrases, and composition.

The mother and daughter both noted how the pandemic has opened up a new way to connect through technology. Abby has been able to reach out to others who also use sign language using the computer and camera they have at home.

However, Abby has learned that many use ALS as their primary language. When they sign, she is unable to understand. Through this discovery, the challenge to learn a new language was born. Plans are underway for both Abby and her mom to learn ALS.

Strength in services

At every age, Abby has needed different kinds of support. As her most recent service provider, AWARE case management has continued to help Abby thrive (Pictured from left Rebecca holding a picture of Abby's art, and Abby holding the wolf mask).

Rebecca mostly helps by keeping an eye on Abby’s case and checking in as needed. Rebecca said that Abby has great care at home.

In April, she had the privilege to delivered some great news to the family. Abby finally came off the waitlist for the Montana Medicaid Waiver!

Abby applied for the benefit when she turned 16 and has been on the waiting list ever since. Rebecca said that unless there is dire need, people may wait many years to become eligible.

Depending on an individual’s needs, the waiver benefit helps with a number of costs normally out of pocket, for example, day support and activities, job support, meals, personal care, and much more.

Abby and her family plan on investing in some equipment that will help her live independently according to her needs.

AWARE Case Management

AWARE provides case management in all 56 counties across Montana. Our team supports adults, children and families with mental health and developmental disability needs.

Case manager support may look like a number of different things. For example, they help people

  • find appropriate services and programs through the state;

  • find and live in a home of their choice;

  • connect with vocational rehabilitation services to help find a job that best fits goals and skills;

  • get support to successfully learn and thrive in school;

  • acquire appropriate mental health and medical services;

  • connect with social activities and programs in the community;

  • and much more.

Learn more about AWARE case management on our website at

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