FamilyForward’s New Occupational Therapy Program

By Ashley Wagner, FamilyForward Director of Occupational Therapy

What’s the most common question you get when you tell someone about your profession or career? As an occupational therapist who works exclusively with children and adolescents, the most common question I get is, “Why would children need ‘occupational’ therapy? They don’t have jobs.”

This question makes total sense. Occupational therapy (OT) might be one of the most confusingly named professions out there. Because, no, I’m not here to find employment for the children I see. My role as an occupational therapist is to help my clients, no matter their age, overcome any barriers that keep them from participating in the activities and environments that are meaningful and important to them.

With adult clients, this would look like teaching them strategies to get dressed after surgery or problem solving how to unload groceries without fatigue if they have a chronic illness. And, yes, it could even look like adapting their work environment to accommodate a disability so that they can perform their job.

In childhood, meaningful occupations often include eating, sleeping, playing, and going to school. For many children who come to FamilyForward, these childhood occupations are disrupted by environments and systems that are not built to meet their unique sensory and relational needs. Trauma in childhood may change how their brains process sensory information, attend to tasks, or perceive relationships. Sitting still for circle time in preschool may be a struggle because their brains are telling their bodies to keep moving. Engaging in play or socialization with friends might pose a challenge because the child focuses more on the toy or activity than on the interaction with the friend. Dinner or bedtime may become battlegrounds with caregivers due to the child’s specific sensory, developmental, and relational needs differing from how the family usually engages in these occupations of eating and sleep.

Occupational therapy professionals hold the neurological, sensory processing, and developmental expertise to analyze why a child or family is experiencing dissatisfaction with an occupation or activity. OT practitioners often work with children and care teams to problem-solve adaptations, strategies, and skill building that can help the child or adolescent to overcome those barriers. However, few OT providers have the expertise of trauma-informed care necessary to understand the role complex trauma might play in these scenarios. Therefore, FamilyForward, in recognizing the important role that the OT profession can hold in healing and participation for families, has started laying the groundwork for an Occupational Therapy Program within its Developmental Trauma Center (DTC).

Over the next year, FamilyForward will begin rolling out OT services alongside the assessment, therapy, and preschool programs within the DTC. As the newly hired Director of Occupational Therapy for FamilyForward, I plan to spend the next few months meeting with DTC staff and stakeholders to identify how best OT can be integrated into the work of the organization. Many families are already excited by the prospect of having access to trauma-informed OT services, and I eagerly await the day we can open our program to families. The OT services we’re building right now will enrich and expand the current work of the DTC. The possibilities offered by this innovative, new Program of Occupational Therapy are one exciting way FamilyForward is continuing to provide even more comprehensive and personalized care for the children and families we serve.

To learn more about the possibilities of this new program, watch the video below.