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What is Occupational Therapy? My interview with Amy Wheadon, MS, OTR/L, CPT, Y.E.S.

KidSHINE Clinic

For this blog, I am interviewing Amy Wheadon, MS, OTR/L, CPT, Y.E.S. in order to help my clients and families learn more about Occupational Therapy.

Amy is the owner and founder of KidSHINE in Ipswich MA. She holds many titles including Occupational Therapist, Certified Personal Trainer and Youth Exercise Specialist. I had the pleasure of working with Amy at an outpatient therapy clinic for almost two years. We worked closely together, and I always was impressed with Amy’s therapy. Amy began her clinic in October 2015, and her work in her clinic has been truly inspirational. Recently, Amy expanded her clinic adding a second office in Amesbury.

On a personal level, Amy met with me when I first began my private practice journey to offer support and tips. I, without hesitation, recommend Amy and her clinic to my clients.

Occupational therapy, much like speech therapy, is often misunderstood. Can you explain some of the areas that you can work with as an Occupational Therapist?

Pediatric occupational therapy focuses on improving a child’s ability to be successful in his or her daily activities (or occupations). This includes participation in school routines, home routines, and social/ leisure activities. If a child is struggling with focus, attention, strength, endurance, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, visual motor skills or perceptual skills, these areas of need can impact the child’s ability to be successful in any or all of his or her daily routines. Often times, if a child is having a hard time in one of these areas, this challenge can impact other areas of the child’s development and can impact the family as a whole.

What is the difference between services offered by an Occupational Therapist and a Physical Therapist?

In pediatrics, the difference between OT and PT in an outpatient setting can be variable. While in school based therapy, the scope for each discipline is very narrow and clearly defined, in an outpatient practice like ours, there is a fair amount of overlap in what OT and PT can do. At KidSHINE, our rule of thumb is if a child has an orthopedic issue that requires specific expertise from a physical therapist, we immediately refer out to PT. If a child has decreased tone, poor core strength, poor motor coordination or retained primitive reflexes, those are areas that OTs are trained to work on, and they are areas that also will directly impact fine motor skill acquisition- so we address these areas! It is also important to remember that skills are not developed in isolation, and when we are working on one skill or area we are also influencing another skill or area. Comprehensive and wholistic care (in my experience) has been the best approach for fostering success.

Tell me a little bit more about your clinic. In addition to offering individual OT services, you offer therapeutic bootcamps. What is the difference between individual therapy and your therapeutic bootcamp? Why would you recommend one service over the other for a child?

One of the most unique aspects of KidSHINE’s approach is that I have developed a program that merges traditional occupational therapy treatment, sensory integration and intense physical exercise. Our novel (and trademark pending) KidSHINE Boot Camp program incorporates all of these components together in a more naturalistic, yet still therapeutically supported group atmosphere that allows children to foster social skills, practice their OT skills and build confidence while building physical skills. In a nutshell, KidSHINE Bootcamp is a therapeutically designed, structured, intense exercise class that incorporates team activities targeting core strength, balance, motor planning and upper body strength. In the spirit of American Ninja Warrior and CrossFit inspired exercise, we use equipment like tires, battle ropes, pull up bars and Bosu balls and we always end each class with an awesome obstacle course.

In addition to our Boot Camp program, we offer comprehensive OT evaluations and 1:1 weekly OT treatment, mirroring our “intense exercise as sensory and strength therapy” philosophy and using an eclectic approach (tailoring the treatment to be the best fit for each individual child). We have some children who just come to KidSHINE for boot camp classes (and who go elsewhere for weekly therapy or only get school based therapy). We have other children who come to KidSHINE just for more traditional 1:1 OT sessions, but who do not do bootcamp classes, and we work with other children who have a hybrid therapy plan where they participate in 1:1 therapy with us and also participate in a Boot Camp class. Having various options allows us the flexibility to create specifically designed programming to meet each child’s individual needs.

You also offer vacation camps and recreational bootcamps. In your opinion who would benefit from these camps? What makes them different from other classes offered through local gyms and parks and recs?

We do also offer recreational Boot Camp classes and recreational and therapeutic summer programs. The reason we decided to offer recreational classes is because ALL children benefit from regular physical exercise, and there are large groups of children who might not fit into the category of a particular sport (but who still want to infuse exercise in their lives). We offer a girls empowerment program (with classes for different age groups) where we encourage girls to feel proud about their bodies and their physical accomplishments. We also offer an integrated preschool program and an executive functioning bootcamp class. We go to several preschools during the school year to run weekly recreational/ developmental enrichment programs (again to facilitate exercise and motor skill development for ALL children). In the summer, we have weeklong summer camps for all of our different programs as well.

The difference between the KidSHINE Bootcamp Program and other ninja warrior classes or kids bootcamp classes is that all of our classes are designed by me (and my team) and all classes are taught by licensed, registered and trained pediatric occupational therapists (- most other programs that appear similar are run by personal trainers). So even for our recreational classes, the design and implementation is entrenched in OT theory and my staff (because they are OTs) are skilled adapting all exercises to ensure the “just right challenge” and success for each child. It is truly a unique endeavor and one that I am extremely proud of; the number of children we have already visibly helped in 3 and a ½ years is amazing!

What are some red flags that a parent should look for in a preschooler that may indicate a need for occupational therapy?

There is very broad range of what is developmentally “typical” for preschool aged children- each child develops at his or her own rate, and so many factors come into play (school environment, level of structure, exposure to different experiences). The rule of thumb we use is if a child is exhibiting behavior or reaction that INTERFERES with his or her successful participation in his or her specific daily activities, then it is worth chatting with an experienced pediatric occupational therapist to see if OT can help. Usually behaviors that parents ask us about are related to challenges with focus, attention, peer cooperative skills/ play skills/ social skills, safety awareness (bolting in parking lots, etc), core weakness gross motor planning, poor fine motor skills, lack of interest in coloring/ pre writing skills, difficulty following daily routines (dressing, bathing, eating), sensory tolerance, etc.

Where would you recommend for parents to go to receive reputable information about Occupational Therapy?

There are some wonderful websites that can provide resources, information and activity ideas for parents. Some of my favorites sites are: Mama OT (lots of parent resources), Inspired Treehouse (activity ideas), Integrated Learning Strategies (ILS Learning Corner- parent friendly information/articles), AOTA (evidence based research articles and general OT information) and the STAR Institute (Sensory Processing Information and strategies)

You also are a Certified Personal Trainer and Youth Exercise Specialist. Do you feel that these additional certifications help you in your Occupational Therapy sessions or are the skills you gained from these separate entities?

I made the decision to get my personal trainer and youth exercise certifications to further support the understanding of physical training for neurotypical children. My masters degree in OT, my experience working with children, my own sensory challenges and my personal passion for exercise has enabled me to merge concepts from personal training with concepts related to OT/ sensory integration (for my therapeutic bootcamp classes). Currently I am pursuing my post professional doctoral degree in OT, and I made the decision to do so that I could explore the implications of the KidSHINE Bootcamp program for pediatric OT treatment through scholarly research.

What does a typical session at KidSHINE look like?

A typical session at KidSHINE looks like PLAY and EXERCISE. We try to emphasize a child directed approach and we target meaningful and motivating activities for each child. Every session is as unique as the child participating in the session. We always spend at least the last 5 minutes of the session talking to parents and emphasizing WHY we are doing what we are doing. We also always demonstrate and suggest specific exercises and strategies to carry over at home. Over the years, I have found that interdisciplinary communication and family/ school involvement in treatment is the most effective way to see progress quickly- so we emphasize the value of communication and feedback into our weekly sessions.

Thinking ahead where do you see your clinic going, are you pursuing any additional certifications or planning new programs?

I am currently doing doctoral level research on the KidSHINE Bootcamp program with the hope that we can publish evidence based research and bring fidelity tested KidSHINE Bootcamps to clinics across the country. Currently we offer therapeutic Boot Camp classes at our Ipswich location. We will be offering discounted participation in our Boot Camp program for a 16 week research study starting in September at our Ipswich location, at a clinic in Rhode Island and in two clinics in Connecticut. We are also expanding to a second location in Amesbury this month and hope to add a third clinic in the next year or two. My new endeavor is to increase our ability to influence regular education programming and re-introduce core strength and exercise into preschool and kindergarten curriculums. I have piloted this program in a local public elementary school (using a grant sponsored by this town’s PTO) and I am hopeful that we can continue to expand our reach in this area.

Make sure you visit Amy’s Facebook Page where she shares more information on Occupational Therapy and KidSHINE!

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