“Nothing About Us, Without Us” – Meet the women leading the first family-centered therapy clinic in Dover, New Hampshire
Reach for the Top is a non-profit organization that provides therapy services focused on a family-centered model. Led by five women with disabilities, this is the only clinic in the Dover area offering trauma-informed and neurodiverse affirming therapies under the mantra “Nothing About Us, Without Us”, expressing the conviction that people with disabilities know what is best for them. This slogan became the rallying call for the 2006 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which emphasizes how people with disabilities must be valued as integral and essential contributors to every sector, industry, and community.
Living with disabilities, women behind the wheel at Reach draw upon their personal experience and passion to make the organization a safe space that empowers children and families to co-create the therapeutic strategies that will work for them. One of the things that set Reach for the Top apart from other clinics is that families not only participate in the therapies, but they also participate in decision-making. Following a transformational approach adopted under new leadership in 2021, this team knows very well the importance of inclusion, and these women seek feedback constantly to make sure that everyone’s voice is heard so that the therapy model can be continually tailored and improved.
Advocating for a world where children with exceptional needs thrive
Amy Rich Crane has worked at every level within Reach for the Top, from treating therapist, to Clinic Coordinator, and is now Executive Director, growing alongside the organization and current team. She is committed to family-centered care and to ensuring each family’s voice, needs, and participation are included in every session from evaluation to discharge.
Experiencing Sensory Processing Challenges since a very young age, receiving an Anxiety diagnosis following her father’s suicide as a child and ultimately diagnosed with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome (EDS) at age 30, Amy believes that “feeling ‘othered’, ‘broken’, unable, confused and ashamed of being different, in the past” led her on her own journey to wellness, and has pushed her to advocate for those that have felt similarly, that were excluded, couldn’t find answers, dismissed without care, or misunderstood: “They are the people I feel I can most authentically connect with and enjoy learning from each of their individual experiences. Connecting with them and seeing them achieve their goals and dreams is the most rewarding and fulfilling experience and pushes me to continue to advocate alongside those with disabilities.”
As a patient, a therapist, and a mother with a child in therapy, Amy recognizes the positive impact that therapy has had in her life: “I have had physical and occupational therapy for orthopedic injuries, strength and physical challenges, on and off, from my teens through my 30’s. I have learned much about my body, how to advocate for my needs, and also how difficult it can be to fit in the recommended home exercises needed to progress. As a mother, seeing your child struggle, show signs of physical challenges and wanting to help them thrive has furthered her belief in finding therapy services that support the child and family.” Being a dual-Board Certified Pediatric Occupational Therapist with several specialty areas of practice, Amy considers an engaging play-based model with the family highly-engaged, to be the best approach to help children reach their greatest potential, and for this reason, she adapts each session, her strategies, and family education to meet the needs and interests of each child and family, with the goal that they leave every session feeling a little more empowered and successful than when they came in and that they have fun in the process.
Much like Amy, Reach’s Director of Clinical Services, Robyn Thomas, has experienced how this approach provides such a strong, positive, and powerful impact into the lives of others: “From a young age, I knew that I had a passion to have a career in which I could work with children and their families. Before becoming an Occupational Therapist, I had always been drawn to finding opportunities that allowed me to connect and play with children and their caregivers through summer camps, nannying, before/after school programs, etc…” Her involvement in Reach for the Top began as she became interested in the organization’s strong values towards family-centeredness and neurodiversity, qualities that both personally and professionally she strongly believes in, as a neurodiverse person who has been dealing with ADHD, non-verbal learning disability, and anxiety throughout her life.
Robyn also experiences disability through the lenses of a mother with a child in therapy: “My oldest also has a diagnosis of ADHD and my middle son was born with a posterior tongue tie that has been removed twice, and holds a diagnosis of expressive language delay with motor planning challenges. My experiences lead me to really become more understanding and compassionate for others who are challenged by their individual differences. Both of my children have learned to appreciate the value of setting goals for yourself and accomplishing them. And, as a mom, it is so much fun to be with the in the moment they overcome a difficult task or challenge for the very first time.”
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy, Robyn utilizes her over eleven years of experience as a competitive swimmer and lifeguard to develop Reach’s Aquatic Therapy specialty program. For Robyn, “being on a swimming team helped me set goals for myself, it taught me discipline and the joys and pride that came with accomplishing something that was difficult, yet fun to go through that process at the same time.” This mindset helps her, alongside other therapists at Reach, to create a therapeutic environment providing fun, motivating, and meaningful experiences so that children can enjoy learning, connecting with each other, and reaching their goals with their families.
For Rachel Babcock, a speech-language pathologist and the Community & Client Services Coordinator at Reach for the Top, the clinic’s play-based approach to therapy with children is what drew her in: “I am a child at heart and see the value in learning through play. I believe teaching communication skills in a playful learning environment is the best way to foster each child’s strengths for building speech-language skills.”
Struggling with mental illness stemming from traumatic experiences during her childhood, Rachel regularly sees a therapist and a counselor to continue to learn about managing an anxiety disorder: “I have learned so much about my brain and body’s needs through positive self-talk, breathing strategies, healthy eating habits, exercise, and mindfulness, which has helped me continue to grow and be more confident.” She considers that this first-hand perspective helps her as a speech-language therapy: “I see children face the trauma of not being able to communicate their feelings, being unable to be understood by their parents, unable to talk to others to make friends, or feeling less than others because they stutter or have a voice that sounds different from their peers. Having an anxiety disorder, I feel connected and committed to supporting my clients who feel constant worry or fear about their voice not being ‘good enough’”.
At Reach for the Top, each therapist works hard to provide family-centered care in a way that is authentic. The teams value each other’s strengths as therapists and build off of them through teamwork and collaboration. An example of this is Katie McGrath, a Board-Certified Occupational Therapist and Reach’s Development and Fundraising Coordinator, who works closely with Amy, the Executive Director, to look for and organize opportunities to raise funds to support the social work done by the organization.
Katie truly values the culture at Reach that supports constant learning and growth: “There is not a day that goes by that I do not learn something from one of my co-workers, whether it is from asking direct questions or observing the work they do. We have incredible support when it comes to accessing resources and training to help us provide quality care that meets each family’s individual needs. We also are encouraged to pursue our passions and find a way to bring it to Reach and the families that we support.”
This learning mindset is precisely what brought Katie to collaborate with Reach: “After completing a fieldwork as a student in outpatient pediatrics, I knew that I wanted to find a job after graduation in this setting. I also knew that opportunities to continue to learn were important to me. I could tell immediately that I would be able to combine the two at Reach.”
Katie is also on her own journey dealing with a disability, and regrets not having accessed therapy growing up, as she and her family were not aware of her needs: “I knew people in my life with a diagnosed anxiety disorder and thought that it would be unfair to say that I had an anxiety disorder because, to me, it did not seem like my anxiety kept me from participating or being successful in the things that were important to me, so it ‘didn’t count’. Recently, I learned more about high functioning anxiety and have been going through a life changing revelation.” Having recognized the way her anxiety impacts her life has given Katie a lot of perspective when working with children. She is able to look at surface level behavior and recognize that it may be stemming from anxiety.
Reach’s Office Manager, Karen Begin, shares a similar journey. After years of acquiring multiple chronic health issues and growing up in an era of soldiering on, Karen has recently been opened to the idea of not having to endure her symptoms without support. She is cared for by a team of doctors and specialists to help with chronic pain and with medicine, dietary changes and low-cost accommodations to support her joints and vision at work, she is living with much less pain on a day-to-day basis.
For Karen, another source of relief is: “the strategies and support of the wonderful women at Reach to help me with this on a daily basis, has been nothing short of amazing.” Because of this journey she brings empathy to her work when helping families access services at Reach, and accompanying them through their journey of achieving their goals and reaching their child’s full potential.
Leading with passion, perspective and openness
Through their work, as therapists, administrative staff, and leaders, these women embody Reach’s commitment to provide holistic, family-centered specialty programs all under one roof, by dedicated therapists with a passion for continual growth, to support children that have exceptional needs in ways they might not otherwise have access to, all while collaborating with and empowering their families and advocating for a more inclusive world, where those with exceptional needs are valued.
By bringing a personal perspective to their practice and decision making, the leadership team at Reach feels as connected, authentic, and supportive as they’ve ever been. With different stories but similar paths and challenges, each of the women working behind-the-scenes are focused on being at their best to provide the very best care – working hard and learning along the way, while laughing all day as a team and with the kids.