Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Thank you, Therapists.

Dear Readers,

Not only is April the month of our birthday, it is also Occupational Therapy month! Of course I couldn’t let this event go unnoticed.

As the triplet sister to brothers with Cerebral Palsy, therapists have always been a part of my life. I have some amazing memories of therapists who made a big impact on little Claire as I struggled to understand my brothers’ disability and why I did not have it. My mom has amazing memories of occupational therapists showing her that the term Cerebral Palsy does not define her sons, and holding her hand through the months and years following their diagnosis.

Our first experience with therapy--a study on PT and premature infants!

This month gives me an opportunity to thank those women (both Occupational and Physical therapists) who have not just helped my brothers reach milestones, but have helped our family walk this unique journey.

Our first experience with Occupational Therapy was when we were two years old. When my mom talks about that OT, Susan, she says she helped Mom make it through those first couple of years. The below pictures were taken from my Mom’s scrapbook. 
"Mrs.Susan was Mommy's dearest friend in Chicago--even though we only
saw her at Occupational Therapy! She always talked Mommy through every stage
and she helped us make huge progress!" 

A good Occupational Therapist is one who:
       1.)  Encourages the little sibling to participate, as well. (even allows her to steal beads and stow them away in her diaper occasionally…or every week.)

      2.)  Values the Mom’s input and reassures her that she is the one who knows her children the best. For a first-time mom living in a world of specialists, Mom needed that assurance that she was the most important figure in her children’s’ world. And the most informed.
Baby Benjamin working hard in OT

      We moved away, leaving Mom’s dear friend and the boys’ therapist behind. Little Claire was not impressed with the new therapists. They didn’t allow me to join in on Benjamin and Mason’s special “play” time. How was I to understand that they were working? I only knew that they got special time with fun, new toys and grown ups, and was heartbroken when I was repeatedly told “no”.
At our "goodbye" party with their first OT. Notice there are THREE
napkins? Little Claire got a cupcake, too :) 

 To any therapists out there: remember you aren’t just working with your patient; you are working within a family unit. As therapists, you have a platform to set the tone for how the sibling views this disability. Will they resent the special treatment their sib gets, or cherish time spent helping their sib achieve goals? That’s something to keep in mind the next time a whiny typical sibling sits in the hallway during your therapy session.

Eventually I grew to understand what Benjamin and Mason were doing in therapy and realized why I couldn’t take part in it. We moved yet again, and this time the move came with a new type of therapy entirely.

Hippotherapy.  I had fallen in love with horses when we did a hippotherapy summer program. The summer program was amazing, and I was a full participant. When Benjamin and Mason began doing hippotherapy every week, my mom arranged for me to ride one of the boys’ horses for a few minutes after their session was over. I was in heaven.

Tears well up as I write, this memory is still so close to my heart. Right around Christmas, the program director told me he had a special surprise for me. He was going to let me ride my very own horse for a whole therapy session.

Wow. Talk about including the sibling. He saw what joy riding the horses gave me, and despite the fact that I didn’t have special needs and wasn’t there for hippotherapy, blessed me with the gift of getting to ride one of his horses. That was a moment I will always remember, and always be thankful for.

    3.) A good therapist sees the potential in everyone, and helps them make their dreams come true.

This story leads me to present day. These years around therapists left a big impact on me. I have seen the life changing work therapists do for their patients and families, and because of that aspire to be an Occupational Therapist myself. I can only pray I will be able to leave a lasting impact on these precious kids and their families like these therapists have made on us.

Probably the most important attribute of a good therapist:
      4.) They don’t care that we are sometimes in sweats (and occasionally PJs) when they come to our house. Hehe

Not too long ago, Mason’s physical therapist was at our house. I had been feeling discouraged, and Mason voiced my concerns to his therapist. She looked at me and said,

“Claire, Occupational Therapy changes lives. You are going to change lives.”

Another moment I’ll never forget. Another therapist making a life changing impact on me.

What makes therapists special? The opportunity they have to make a difference every single moment of every single day. It might be a hug to a frightened mother, the offer to the sister to join in, the encouragement that you are able, whatever your abilities.

To all of you therapists out there, thank you. You really are changing the world—one life at a time.