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April is the Month to Celebrate Occupational Therapists

Under the umbrella of the Exceptional Children Department, various teams of support staff provide crucial services to students, from Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP) to Autism Specialists,  Physical Therapists (PT) and Occupational Therapists (OT). April is the month to celebrate OT’s, and CHCCS students, families and staff benefit daily from a team of 12 OT’s, in addition to Jennifer Radzik, the Lead Occupational/Physical Therapist. 

That silver lining came up again and again, when OT team members spoke about their experiences of the past year. Molly Raymond said, “One unexpected positive was getting to know parents and caretakers during virtual sessions. It made carry-over into the home setting more seamless and effective. We became parent consultants and trainers.”

Sally Bober said, “In the fall, we started providing virtual therapy sessions with a teletherapy platform and with Google Meets. We typically needed an e-helper present with the student we were working with, and one outcome of this was I developed closer relationships with the parents of my students. They were able to also see exactly what I was working on with their child and follow through on suggestions throughout the week.”

“Working with preschoolers via a virtual setting was initially very challenging, but since we were all supporting each other, I was able to come up with some great ways to do teletherapy and to work with my families and teachers together,” said Cheryl Vaughn. “It has been exciting to see my preschool EC students make progress in a virtual environment, and I've really enjoyed the family collaboration in this model.  It has been nice to see that the relationships I established in the virtual environment are now carrying over into the classroom. “

For many, the initial trepidation and concerns over limitations gave way to surprise at the ways in which the pandemic forced them to develop new, creative service delivery models. “Being an OT is what lights me up -- I absolutely love it,” CJ Hacker said. “Honestly, I was a bit fearful that practicing OT virtually would dilute some of the hands-on nature of the job I love so much. Practicing and learning from other wise and seasoned OTs through the pandemic has just expanded my respect for the profession and understanding of how much truly is possible, even given seemingly insurmountable challenges.”

Jamie Throndset said she would have had a completely different answer in September, if she had been asked about the comparative value of practicing virtual OT with students, rather than in person. “The benefit of time has given me the chance to work with teams, including family members as a part of those teams, to discover what aspect of their disability is impacting school outcomes and develop individualized OT interventions that are effective. Although it still feels very different, the mission and end result of providing therapy to help students gain greater access to school is still very much the same. In truth it has been a good journey.” 

The need to explore and gain competencies with technology that had previously been unknown was another common theme from the OT’s. Raymond said, “The technology learning curve was steep, but the district offered good training on different platforms and colleagues shared tips and strategies that were extremely helpful!”

Bober said, “I also learned ways to complete sensory processing and motor screenings and evaluations in a virtual format.  The EC teams I work with all increased our communication and worked closely together to complete the parts of an EC referral and an EC evaluation virtually with in-person evaluations completed on as needed basis. The importance of good communication was definitely highlighted by the pandemic.”

Kimberly Bailliard said, “When the pandemic began, I remember thinking - there is no way I can do my job, how can I actually DO therapy on a computer? What in the world am I going to do? However, just as other CHCCS educators rose to the challenge, so did our OT/PT team.  We immediately began learning about Telehealth Therapy and virtual platforms. We established more meaningful connections with families, our teams, and often depended on family/home support in order to provide virtual OT.  We learned new ways of providing instruction and guidance on skills and participation.  We created resources for families and educators, sought out technology trainings, made videos for our students, and created learning environments through computers.”   

Over the months of the pandemic, a strong team that had already worked well together found new motivating and instructive ways to work together. Vaughn said, “It has been an interesting year for sure.  It has been amazing to watch our OT team grow together to help solve how to meet the needs of our EC students. I have been with the district a long time, and we have adapted many times over the past, to adjust to new requirements from the state, the federal government, and from our district.  This was a curveball nobody expected. This pandemic year has caused me to take a wider perspective of school-based OT, to really modify/adapt tasks for preschool learners in various settings, to be a support for my teaching staff and other OTs/team members, and to really be flexible in my service delivery model.” 

Switching to remote learning during the start of the pandemic allowed the OT/PT team to work together to create some incredible resources for teachers and parents on a wide variety of subjects such as drawing representational pictures, doing chores, creating a workspace at home, and integrating heavy work motor breaks into your routine to name just a few!” Bober said.

“I have been amazed over and over at the creative virtual materials shared by my OT colleagues,” Raymond said. “Our team, which was already a strong, collaborative group, came together even stronger to support each other, share ideas, and problem-solve the many barriers to providing on-line therapy.”

Hacker began working in the district halfway through the year, and she expressed the collective gratitude for teamwork. “It was remarkable how flexible and focused this team was-- laser focused on the goal of giving students their best, whether through a screen or in person. This team, the students and their family members have shown me that, despite all odds, progress can be made, rapport can be built, resilience can be forged and that all continues to floor me daily. I'm so thankful and humbled to be on this team and in this role.” 

Happy OT Month to the entire CHCCS team!

Tami Atkins

Kimberly Bailliard

Sally Bober

Donna Darragh

Terri deBerjeois

CJ Hacker

Carly Hill

Caroline Irick

Edie Kahn

Molly Raymond

Jamie Throndset

Cheryl Vaughn

Jen Radzik