Why It’s Important to Keep Up with Therapy During the Holidays

As the joyous atmosphere of the holiday season approaches, we must emphasize the significance of maintaining consistency in pediatric therapy for children with various developmental, physical, or social-emotional needs. With a focus on ensuring the holistic well-being of its clients, Reach for the Top Therapy Services, the only therapy clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies, recognizes the importance of continuity of care, to achieve sustained growth and progress in children’s lives. Keep reading to discover the benefits of consistent therapeutic care. 

  1. Ensuring Uninterrupted Progress

For children in therapy for developmental disorders, physical disabilities, or behavioral challenges, maintaining a consistent therapy schedule during the holidays is paramount. These therapy sessions support their specific needs, which sometimes increase during schedule disruptions like school breaks during the busy holiday season. Continuing with their weekly sessions, and even getting in a missed make-up session, positively impact the child’s overall progress. Consistency in therapy aids in maintaining the momentum of progress achieved throughout the year, ensuring that the hard work and efforts invested by the children, their families, and their therapists do not dwindle during the holiday period. 

  1. Promoting Emotional Stability

Festivities and gatherings during the holiday season often bring about changes in routines, social environments, and family dynamics. While these changes are typically embraced with enthusiasm, they can also induce stress and anxiety in children, especially those who thrive on structure and predictability. Pediatric therapy plays a vital role in promoting emotional stability during these times of routine disruption. By providing a safe and familiar space, therapists help children navigate the emotional challenges that may arise, offering coping strategies and emotional support to help them manage holiday-related stress effectively.  Including advocating for their sensory and/or feeding needs and differences to family members who may not understand those needs.  

  1. Preventing Regression

Children may experience regression if therapy is interrupted for an extended period of time. Regular therapy sessions help children consolidate and reinforce the skills they have learned, ensuring that they continue to make steady progress in their developmental journey. By continuing therapy during the holidays, caregivers and therapists can make sure that the child’s developmental milestones are not compromised and prevent setbacks that may occur due to the disruption of routine during the holiday season. 

  1. Supporting Family Involvement

Reach’s family-centered therapy model welcomes the involvement of parents or caregivers, who are crucial to their child’s progress. The holiday season presents opportunities for families to come together and partake in various activities, so incorporating pediatric therapy during this time can foster increased family connection and support. Additionally, involving extended family members in therapy sessions can provide a deeper understanding of the child’s needs and progress. It encourages active participation from the family, fostering a safe environment that extends beyond therapy sessions and into the child’s everyday life. 

  1. Fostering Social Interaction

The holiday season is also a time for numerous social gatherings, festivities, and community events. For children undergoing therapy for emotional, social, and/or behavioral challenges, the holiday period can serve as an invaluable time to work through stress or challenges that arise when different social demands challenge the child’s abilities in a way that adds greater stress, rather than ending in a positive interaction.  Our therapists are highly trained in neurodiverse affirming strategies that help advocate for each child’s needs, preferences, and strengths to bring value to the social interaction, even if it ‘looks different’ than neurotypical expectations portray as successful.  We can help your family and friends embrace your child for who they are and the value they naturally bring.  Moreover, in a play-based therapy model like the one offered at Reach, children can learn cooperation, empathy, and problem-solving skills — all of which positively impact their social interactions beyond therapy sessions. 

  1. Promoting Inclusivity and Sensitivity

Inclusive and sensitive practices are fundamental in ensuring that children with special needs feel valued, understood, and accepted during the holiday season. Festive environments can be overwhelming and too stimulating for children with sensory processing issues, which can lead to discomfort and emotional distress. By continuing pediatric therapy, families, caregivers, and therapists reinforce the importance of inclusion while ensuring their children’s well-being and needs are prioritized while encouraging their participation in holiday activities and community events. This approach fosters a culture of acceptance and understanding, promoting an environment where children with diverse needs feel seen, heard, and celebrated during the holiday season. 

Commitment to Attendance 

As the holiday season approaches, it is crucial to prioritize the continuation of pediatric therapy to ensure that the developmental, emotional, and social needs of children are consistently met. However, the festive season also coincides with cold and flu season, negatively impacting everyone’s ability to attend sessions. Although families and therapists alike may miss the occasional appointment, to improve outcomes and attendance, Reach pioneered a new approach to therapy scheduling that is a win-win. 

The clinic offers two scheduling options: regular recurring sessions (the same day and time) and flexible ‘flex’ scheduling (varies week-to-week, based on availability). Missed appointments are rescheduled to align with the child’s care plan, ensuring that above 50% of scheduled visits are kept in a 4-week period for families to maintain their recurring spot. Suppose a family is unable to make up a visit with teletherapy or another time that same week and is at 50% attendance or below. In that case, they are automatically transferred from recurring to flexible ‘flex’ scheduling. 

“By maintaining a steadfast commitment to therapy during the holiday season, we uphold the well-being and progress of our children. Embracing the significance of continuity, inclusivity, and support, we create a nurturing environment where every child can flourish, regardless of their individual differences, strengths, or challenges. Together, let us celebrate the spirit of growth and resilience, making the holiday season a time of development, connection, and unwavering support for all children.” – Amy Rich Crane, Executive Director 

As Reach for the Top Therapy Services continues to lead the way in family-centered therapy, it exemplifies the importance of commitment to attendance and scheduling flexibility, ensuring that all children and families have the opportunity to access and benefit from continuous therapy services. This forward-thinking approach better serves the needs of the community and also facilitates ongoing growth and development within the clinic, so they are able to serve more. 

The Healthcare World is Burnt out and Short-Staffed: Addressing turnover in healthcare

The pressures of the modern healthcare environment, coupled with unprecedented challenges brought about by the pandemic, have led to an alarming increase in national burnout among healthcare workers. The high turnover rates across all healthcare and education industries (doctor’s offices, hospitals, nursing homes, therapy clinics, schools, and more) are both the cause and consequence of an exhausted workforce struggling to keep up with an increasingly fragile healthcare system. Presented with these external challenges, Reach for the Top Therapy Services, the only therapy clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies, has doubled down on employee well-being initiatives to support itss team while promoting resilience and continuing to support high-quality care.  

Burnout and turnover are a vicious cycle 

Burnout is a state of chronic physical and emotional exhaustion often accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and detachment from work and personal life. The demanding nature of healthcare work makes this a pervasive problem in the industry, as many healthcare workers find themselves working long hours, battling compassion fatigue (where they feel for their patients as they work through their struggles and challenges), and often struggling to find a work-life balance. 

Furthermore, the global pandemic brought to light the vulnerabilities of healthcare systems worldwide.   According to the 2023 NSI National Healthcare Retention & RN Staffing Report, the hospital turnover rate is at 22.7%, compared to 19.5% in 2020. 

The ripple effects of high turnover rates in the healthcare industry are far-reaching, especially for local organizations like Reach. Not only are patients affected by long waitlists and potential disruptions to their care, but healthcare institutions also suffer financially, as recruiting, hiring, and training new staff is costly, especially for a non-profit organization focused on mentorship and extensive training to offer many quality specialty programs. Moreover, the loss of experienced professionals with the great resignation, undermined the knowledge base and expertise, though Reach has been able to keep four therapists with over 10 years of experience each and several with 2-5 years in their fields. 

How to reduce turnover in healthcare spaces 

Having also experienced a surge in medical leaves in the period surrounding the pandemic, Reach is addressing the burnout and turnover crisis head-on: by implementing a multi-faceted approach that proactively addresses root causes and provides comprehensive support to its team of therapists.  

Workload Management

Prioritizing workload management is a key way to prevent excessive stress in the workforce. To this effect, Reach established a 6-week formal mentorship designed to help each therapist build a caseload while learning more about the organization’s core values and therapeutic standards.  At full capacity, a schedule rate of 80% working time, means that the team gets a paid lunch break,  planned documentation time, and weekly Team Time where all members of the team are available to support one another. During Team Time they focus on collaboration and connection, which may include working on projects, playing games, and de-stressing with yoga, a walk, connection-based activities or programming where every staff member is free simultaneously. To promote a supportive work environment focused on interdisciplinary care, support, and quality outcomes, Reach leadership started a Monthly Case-Care Collaboration initiative where therapists actively work through difficult cases, provide second opinions, additional resources and suggestions, and a community of support. Reach has guest speakers come in regularly to discuss important topics like: AAC, Selective Mutism, Trauma Informed Care, DEI, Neurodiveristy and more.  They have weekly Lunch & Learns where a variety of topics from sleep, family-centered education, affirming approaches, social-emotional development and support, regulation, and feeding, for example are taught by experts in the field, community, and clinic. 

Supportive Team and Stress Inoculation  

Burnout is described as a perceptual disorder, based on one’s mindset, and perspective, as well as their practice of self-care, and with the right tools, support, balance, and resilience it can be overcome.  Providing resources is crucial for therapists. Reach promotes well-being at work by creating opportunities for team bonding in spaces designed for stress relief.  For example, our staff office is equipped with a zen garden sand table, singing bowl, metal drum, mandala coloring wall, blue lights, chocolate, coffee bar, and weekly prompts to connect.  These small personal touches matter to this team.  Additionally, Reach offers extra time off for those who choose to develop and run specialty passion projects and programs and annual increases in paid time off for loyalty to our organization, focused on ensuring team members get adequate time to disconnect and recharge.  We encourage staff to plan their week and schedules with what aligns with their personal and family needs and also offer flexible scheduling options when unexpected situations arise. Furthermore, to boost morale and foster team building, Reach organizes an Annual Holiday Party and an Annual Offsite Retreat. 

Workplace Culture 

Nurturing a positive and safe culture that promotes teamwork, with open communication, and mutual respect can go a long way in preventing burnout. The Reach senior and junior leadership team, as well as program leads, seek active feedback and have received consistently positive feedback that the team is authentic, honest, respectful, considerate, hard-working, supportive, consistent, and family-centered.  It takes active work and cultivation, with everyone, at every level, doing their part.  Two years ago Reach leadership began the practice of having employees complete communication profiles and practice adapting feedback based on preferred styles of communication amongst the team, valuing different styles, making room for all voices at the table, and improving overall communication.   

Also, the team recognizes hard work with the opportunity for weekly bonuses for high performers and referral bonuses for employees who refer other high-quality practitioners to join the team.  

Education and Training 

Continuous education and training not only keep employees up-to-date with the latest research but also empower them with the skills needed to navigate fast-paced and high-stress situations effectively. Reach is committed to investing in the continued education of its therapists – in 2022, each therapist took anywhere from 30 to 200 continuing education credits to further develop their skills. The organization is also leveraging weekly Lunch & Learns with internal and external guest speakers, or virtual conferences, to create regular learning opportunities. Through its junior leadership program, Reach offers therapists who desire to take on greater challenges outside of typical therapy-based growth opportunities for advancement into leadership, which not only grows the therapists but the organization with diverse perspectives.  At all levels of the organization, each member participates in mentorship, 1:1 support, and goal planning to ensure each person’s growth is valued and ensure the team is contributing towards meeting Reach’s mission. 

Leadership Support 

Leaders in healthcare need to prioritize the well-being of their teams and create a culture of support and empathy where they lead by example. Beyond emphasizing the importance of work-life balance, Reach helps employees remain motivated and satisfied at work by encouraging them to pursue and lead passion projects that align with community needs. Over the past years, the organization has made a conscious effort to develop a workplace culture where everyone can thrive. In fact, 88% of employees report significant improvement in team culture including communication, values, and respect since 2022, and 100% agree with significant improvements following leadership and operational changes implemented at the end of 2021.  The organization implemented feedback received over the years and in the 2023 survey, improved its scores in employee satisfaction in every area; as this leadership team commits significant time to employee wellbeing and overall leadership practices.  

Burnout and turnover in healthcare remain one of the most urgent challenges for professionals and organizations in the sector. By addressing the underlying causes of burnout and turnover, and promoting healthy work environments, healthcare organizations like Reach can ensure the well-being of their workforce, improve patient outcomes, and contribute to the resilience of the healthcare system. The clinic’s ability to overcome post-pandemic challenges remains an invaluable resource for the Dover, NH, community. Reach’s commitment to empowering patients through quality trauma-informed and neurodiverse affirming care, specialty programs, community partnerships, and a dedicated team, will continue to guide its journey toward making a lasting impact on children and families in NH.  

Reach’s team demonstrates day in and day out that they are committed to helping each child and each employee become their best self while focusing on their strengths and overcoming barriers to success.  If you are looking for the opportunity to change lives and are open to having your life change in positive ways too, apply to join Team Reach! 

Sometimes kids are loud and that’s okay: Embracing the playful noise of pediatric therapy

As adults, we often don’t realize that our world is not exactly made for children. A lot of pressure is put on parents and children alike to play by “grown-ups’ rules” and many social spaces are deemed inappropriate places for children to be children. Add children with exceptional needs to the mix, and the world can seem even more unwelcoming to little ones. Reach for the Top Therapy Services, in Dover, NH, works to provide the opposite: a safe and welcoming environment where children’s needs are prioritized, as well as support in advocating for children and their needs in the community. 

Pediatric therapy environments play a crucial role in the development and well-being of children facing various physical, cognitive, sensory, and emotional challenges. At Reach, the therapy spaces are designed with children in mind to provide them with the tools and support they need. In this atmosphere, noise levels can often rise to high levels when children are having fun and equally, when they are dysregulated, which may be disruptive for parents and family members participating in the therapy sessions, or even other children, who can become overstimulated. Below we explore some reasons why pediatric therapy spaces can sometimes be loud, and why it is often a sign, the children and families are in the right place, and that noise is okay.  

Diverse Therapeutic Needs 

One of the primary reasons why therapy environments can get noisy is the diversity of children they serve. Families that work with the Reach team seek therapy to support their children through a variety of challenges that can be physical, developmental, sensory, or emotional. As therapists work with these children, they adapt their methods and techniques to suit each child’s unique needs, leading to a dynamic and vibrant environment. 

Play-Based Therapies 

For young children, play is a natural and effective way to engage in therapy. Reach values the play-based and relationship-based approaches as they have strong outcomes in pediatrics, because children learn best through play, nearly 200 times faster than skills taught without including play. Engaging in play can help children build trust with their therapists, express themselves, and learn new skills. However, the excitement of play can often become loud and energetic, which is a positive thing, that also may increase the overall noise levels in the clinic. 

Emotional Expression and Communication 

As a neurodiverse-affirming clinic, Reach is a safe space where children are encouraged to freely express their emotions and thoughts. Therapy sessions often awaken a wide range of feelings in children, such as frustration, fear, or excitement, which can lead to increased outbursts and dysregulation, because they feel safe to feel and process those emotions. This is expected, natural, and valuable for the child-therapist relationship, as it allows professionals to gain further insights into a child’s inner world, enabling tailored approaches and support. 

Sensory Stimulation 

Sensory integration is a significant aspect of pediatric therapy, especially for children with sensory processing disorders. At Reach, therapy spaces like the new sensory room or the sensory garden are deliberately designed to provide a variety of experiences, including tactile, auditory, and visual stimuli. These sensory-rich environments aim to help children regulate their responses to different sensations and adapt to various environments. Consequently, the presence of sensory equipment and exposure to different stimuli can contribute to a noisy atmosphere, but it is essential for children’s therapeutic journeys.  

Group Therapy Sessions 

Group therapy sessions are a common practice at Reach for the Top Therapy Services. These sessions encourage interaction, communication, socialization, collaboration, and play, which can lead to increased noise levels. Although it may appear chaotic at times, group therapy provides valuable learning opportunities and helps children develop essential social skills together in a more natural and inclusive way.  Peers accept other peers energy and arousal levels and learn how to adapt, request space or tools to be able to stay regulated and participate, or advocate for their needs in the relationship or group, as they would with peers at school and in the community. 

Parental Involvement and Education 

Reach’s family-centered therapy model frequently involves parents or caregivers, who are crucial to their child’s progress. Families are encouraged to actively participate in therapy sessions, learn techniques to support their child’s development at home, and engage in therapeutic play with their children. The inclusion of parents adds another dimension of emotions, activity, and interaction to the therapy environment which may raise the volume of the sessions. Reach believes that pediatric therapy environments are vibrant, noisy, and lively for good reasons. The energetic atmosphere is a testament to the dedication and commitment of therapists in tailoring interventions to meet the diverse needs of children. The activity and noise in these environments are not a sign of disorder but rather a reflection of positive engagement, emotional expression, and collaborative learning. With therapy, children develop essential skills that will shape their future as they grow, learn, and overcome challenges in lively settings. Embracing the noise and energy of therapy environments ensures that children receive the support and guidance they need to thrive and reach their fullest potential.  If environments seem consistently too overwhelming for a certain family, we always encourage families to let us know, as we have more secluded treatment areas, as well as tools like noise-canceling headphones that can support both the child and/or the caregivers. 


Reach for the Top: Serving Children and Families Through Positive Growth

When it comes to pediatric therapy, Reach for the Top Therapy Services, the only therapy clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies led by six women with lived disability experience, stands out. After a leadership change nearly two years ago and restructuring one year ago last June, the changes have made a significant and positive impact. The current high-performing team, led by Executive Director Amy Rich Crane, continues to prioritize the well-being of children and maintain its mission of providing top-quality care through a family-centered model with twelve specialty programs. 

Innovative Approaches and Positive Impact 

Over the past year, Reach has embraced innovation by further developing established programs as well as introducing new programs that cater to the diverse needs of children in therapy and the Seacoast disability community. Among these are the Sensory Community Garden, a partnership with the Dover Library with donations from the Greenland Lowes, an outdoor therapy group called Branch Out, highlighting the benefits of outdoor play, problem-solving, and connecting to peers in nature, as well as continuing the Aquatics program at a new, supportive location.  

The organization has also recently unveiled a new multi-sensory room for Autistic and neurodivergent children that aligns with the shift from traditional therapy models to ones that accept, empower, and advocate for those with disabilities through relationship and play-based approaches, over more traditional authoritative behavioral approaches. Moreover, Reach has formed a relationship with another community organization, collaborating with Granite State Music Therapy to establish an innovative music therapy group, which will increase Reach’s specialty therapy programs to 15 opportunities and 3 therapy departments, 18 expansive options for Seacoast families by year-end.  

Countless client stories serve as a testament to Reach’s dedication and effectiveness. By highlighting a few of these testimonials, including those from grateful parents, Reach can showcase the profound positive impact it has had on families and children with exceptional needs: 

“Through therapy, I’ve learned a lot about Jack – what his stims are, what helps him and what makes things worse, as well as the ways I can help Jack to grow and thrive using different adaptations. Miss Robyn has taught Jack and I both so much and it’s helped tremendously both at home and out in the community,” said Janyce Legrand, whose son has been attending therapy at Reach for the past two years.  

Amy Shaw, who has two neurodivergent daughters and recently discovered her own neurodivergence, praises Reach’s support to her family. “With the help of professionals like Reach, I was able to keep on fighting the everyday battle and work towards a more bio-psycho-socially healthy family. Reach For The Top not only cares about the children but the entire family unit. I feel supported enough to express my needs and they lovingly support me, even on my bad, barely holding it together days.” 

Community Partnerships and Generous Donations 

One of the organization’s greatest strengths lies in its community, and donations are the driving force behind supporting the clinic’s specialty programs for enriched care. Reach is incredibly grateful for the support it receives from individuals, local businesses, foundations, and the community, in order to carry out its mission and programs. Beyond the generous $10,000 from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation for operational support, and the $6,250 grant from Saint Mary’s Bank that is supporting hippotherapy program fees, the themed peer groups, and the new Music Therapy Program, Reach received a notable donation of $2,000 from Rand Whitney, a local Dover business owned by the New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and $1,000 from NESPN television personality, Charlie Moore ‘The Mad Fisherman’. Such contributions from esteemed community members solidify Reach’s reputation and enable it to continue its important work. 

Last year, Reach received close to $200,000 in grants and donations which helped the organization exceed its goals, increasing the number of children and families served to more than 600 and expanding services to 15 programs and initiatives. Fundraising activities remain strong in the current year, as the team prepares to host its first Annual Reach Art Auction this fall, which will highlight art created by children with disabilities during their therapy sessions with their therapists and family. Reach continues to seek new relationships while developing established relationships with businesses and donors that share our values and are moved by the opportunity to empower children with disabilities so they can thrive and further support their families as they advocate for their child’s rights, development, and abilities. 

Investing in the Team’s Education and Expansion 

To further enhance its capacity to serve children and families, Reach recently hired four new therapy practitioners, growing to a 15-strong team. These dedicated professionals bring a wealth of experience, with a combined total of 32 years of serving children and families. Their expertise will contribute to Reach’s continued growth and enable the clinic to meet its target of helping over 700 families this year. 

Additionally, Reach facilitates continuing education for therapists, and one of its biggest commitments over the past year, with changes in personnel and policies, includes continued efforts to fully develop a workplace culture where everyone can thrive and continue to be an employer of choice. The investment of funds into therapeutic skill development, hiring, and training of therapy personnel, administration, and leadership ensures that children can continue to get the high-quality, advanced, and specialized care they deserve from employees whose growth is consistently valued.  

The commitment to hiring and empowering the right team members makes a positive impact on the children and families served, who develop strong therapeutic relationships with their therapy team, as well as on the overall team culture. In fact, 88% of employees report significant improvement in team culture including communication, values, and respect since 2022, and 100% agree with significant improvements following leadership and operational changes implemented at the end of 2021. 

Values and Standards Guide Continuous Improvement 

Moreover, Reach maintains a strong focus on its values and standards while ensuring open communication and collaboration with its team members. The clinic values the input and voice of its employees, further evidenced by the newly established junior leadership program, encouraging contributions and perspectives.  There are certain non-negotiable outcomes that must be met to ensure the organization is successful and meets its financial and community-based goals, but the plan to get there is flexible, tailored to find the win-win for families, employees, and Reach, with clear targets and personal goals for each team member. 

Reach for the Top Therapy continues to empower children and families through new programs, community partnerships, active fundraising, and a dedicated team. With pent-up demand, we continue to seek team members that fit our niche and growth mindset culture, with several opportunities for employment to meet community needs.  The clinic’s ability to overcome challenges felt from our post-pandemic economy, foster trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming practices, and maintain a family-centered approach makes it an invaluable resource for the Dover, NH, community. Reach’s vision of transforming lives and reaching new heights is continuously shared through positive impact stories and will continue to guide its journey toward making a lasting impact on children and families in NH. 

Empowering Mothers: The Mental Load of Raising Children with Disabilities

This Mother’s Day, we spoke candidly with mothers and grandmothers about the joys, challenges, and the unseen load of raising children with disabilities.

Parents of children with disabilities face unique and complex challenges that can be emotionally and physically taxing. Research suggests that women are more likely to be the primary caregivers and to take on the responsibilities and emotional labor associated with caregiving, such as managing appointments, sharing observations, assisting in the plan, informing everyone in the child’s life, and advocating for their child’s needs. 

This Mother’s Day, three mothers, two mothers and therapists at Reach, and one grandmother caring for her grandson, have shared parts of their experience caring for children enrolled at Reach for the Top, the only therapy clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies through a family-centered model.

Goodbye toxic positivity, hello authentic feelings and families

Raising all children, especially those with disabilities and higher needs, requires a high level of care, patience, information, collaboration, and dedication. There is no doubt that a mother’s love is unconditional, but it is important to normalize the idea that mothers and caregivers of children with disabilities can feel a wide range of emotions –  from joy to pride, to sadness, anger, frustration, and fear. Amy Rich Crane, Reach’s Executive Director, a therapist, and mother of two children in therapy, acknowledges you can hold space for more than one feeling at a time, and it is natural to feel some grief when realizing your child has additional needs: 

“There is a lot of joy, challenge, and growth that comes from raising all children, regardless of their needs. When parents feel grief, guilt, fear, or other strong emotions arise when learning their child has a disability or significant challenges, or when trying to help them, it is completely normal and acceptable. As a parent, it’s natural to want your child to have all the opportunities, all the successes and not to struggle. So, when you realize your child has greater needs and they may have greater needs for a long time, these feelings naturally arise because you recognize the world is not currently designed for their needs, which can make accessing play, childcare, school, friendships, and so much more, more difficult.  So, yes, it is okay to grieve the life you desire for them, it is okay to have waves of fear that they may be under-supported or mistreated.  Feel those feelings and let them serve as motivation to find your support networks and strategies to move forward, helping your child find success that may look different than the ‘typical’ or original plan, something that works for them.” – Amy Rich Crane

Amy Shaw, a neurodiverse mother raising two neurodiverse daughters who are both followed at Reach for the Top Therapy, has felt guilty and ashamed of her emotional response to struggles in her daily life:

“There was a time when I could not leave them and I lost myself completely. The oldest had severe separation anxiety and the baby had medical needs that only I seemed to understand. My husband would give me such a hard time if I left him alone with the girls, even to go to the grocery store! After coming home from a 12-14 hour day at work, I handed the baby to my husband and locked myself in my bedroom crying. Every day was so hard for me as a parent, I was lost and desperate for help.” Amy Shaw

It is not uncommon for parents of children with disabilities, most often the mothers, to have mental health struggles. They may feel constant worry and anxiety about their child’s health and well-being, as well as concerns about their child’s future and the long-term impact of their disability. It is okay to seek help, and there are resources to support you.

Recognizing and sharing the mental load

The term ‘mental load’ refers to the invisible and often unrecognized burden of mental work that falls primarily on mothers. It encompasses the emotional, cognitive, and organizational labor that goes into managing a household and caring for others.

Mothers and caregivers work tirelessly to ensure their child has the best possible quality of life, and are often responsible for managing the additional appointments, therapies, medications, and carryover of strategies for their children. They are responsible for navigating complex healthcare and educational systems, advocating for their child’s needs, and coordinating care between different healthcare providers, educational providers, and caregivers at home. Robyn Thomas, a therapist at Reach with two of her own children in therapy, talks about wearing many hats as a mother: 

“Having to constantly balance my responsibilities and role within my full-time job and my role as a mother of 3 children at home can be very challenging and overwhelming at times. I find that there are days where I catch myself really missing being home with my children, especially when my children begin telling me how much they miss me while I am gone. Many of the working moms that I know within my support system agree that we all share this challenge, but it is also what connects us.” – Robyn Thomas

Find your village and don’t forget to care for yourself too

We often hear that it takes a village to raise a child, and that is true. The modern 40-hour work week was not designed to accommodate building relationships with your children, chores, making meals, having play dates, extracurriculars, and having hobbies for caregivers, let alone caring for children with disabilities.

It’s essential for parents and primary caregivers of children with disabilities to have a strong support network. Find your village, the community you can lean on, whether it is family, friends, other parents who share similar struggles, or even therapy providers. For Katie MacKinnon, Reach’s Board of Director Chair and mother of Claire, who has been in therapy for speech delays, sensory processing issues, and food aversions, this is a priority:

“Find support right away and don’t feel like you have to figure it all out on your own. Reach For The Top is naturally a great place to start on your family’s journey, but also ask your children’s school staff, pediatricians, and fellow parents in your community for resources and support. By sharing our experiences, we can be stronger together for our children and ourselves.”Katie MacKinnon

Carole Hartigan, who took over as her grandson’s caregiver after 3-year-old Nathaniel’s father passed away, has found her support network in the other family members affected by this loss:

“I see myself as an important advocate for Nathaniel and this role is vital because there are several family members who have become loving caregivers in the absence of his Daddy. We call this “Team Nathaniel”.  Everything and anything I learn in Occupational Therapy, I write down in a group email and send out to inform the “Team” about what happened.”  – Carole Hartigan

Another very important thing is that mothers and parents of children with disabilities take care of themselves. This can include seeking out mental health support, finding time for self-care, and connecting with friends and family. Parents should not feel guilty about needing their own support or for taking time for themselves, as it helps them be better caregivers for their child(ren). It is something that many mothers struggle to prioritize and something that those within their trusted network can help support. 

“One challenge that has been hard for me lately is time management with all the different appointments. I often find myself putting the needs of my family and friends above myself and feeling like there’s just not enough time in the day to take care of me.” Janyce

In addition, caregivers of children with disabilities often struggle to find care that meets their child’s needs and aligns with their parenting and learning style.  Depending on the disability, a child may require specialized care from multiple healthcare professionals, which requires not only high levels of collaboration and communication but finding the right fit.

Make sure that you find a provider that really listens and includes you as a family. Also, make sure they make it fun. Kids are motivated by play, positive experiences, feeling a sense of mastery/accomplishment, and connection. It looks different for each child and family and great therapists understand that and tailor it to their needs.  If something feels off, I encourage you to speak up and see what can be done.” – Amy Rich Crane

Another challenge parents of children with disabilities face is finding appropriate educational support for their children.  Due to many complex challenges in funding, knowledge, and systems, many school districts are missing the mark in supporting the unique needs of children with disabilities, and parents may have to fight for their children to receive the accommodations they need to succeed. This can be a long and frustrating process that parents are often in need of support in, many times the mothers, that then either put countless hours into advocating within their school district or turn to private schools or homeschooling to ensure their child receives a quality education.

“My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and Anxiety. With this, I pulled her from her private school and went to public. I took everything I had learned about my child and laid it out for the school. I shared my concerns and started the Individualized Education Program (IEP) process, during which I was told my girl was ‘too smart’ to qualify for an IEP or even for a 504,  which covers students who don’t meet the criteria for special education but who still require some accommodations. After two years, a few incidents where her needs were neglected, and a lot of fighting with the school district, I sent her to a new private school.” – Amy Shaw

Reach has partnered with several mothers, school districts, and daycares that have reached out to have in-services on support delivery that is affirming and provides tangible support recommendations so that children and families feel better supported and provide the knowledge gap backed by evidence and clinical experience.  At Reach, we will continue to do all we can to acknowledge the hard work mothers of children with disabilities and exceptional needs put in, how real the challenges are, how normal their feelings are, how important self-care and a network of support is, and to help connect them to resources that can further support their and their child’s unique needs.

All parents are highly valued at Reach and on the journey to supporting children and empowering families.  We recognize that 65% of the time, mothers are there at Reach adding more to their to-do list to support their children and families.  We are encouraging everyone to reach out to a mother this weekend and offer support: 

  • An hour of watching their child so mom can care for themself;
  • Bring over dinner; 
  • Help with a chore;
  • Take something off their plate for a day so they can put time back into themselves;
  • Be their cheerleader, acknowledge their feelings, validate them, and listen. Sometimes they just need someone to listen to all the good and all the challenges, without judging them.

Reach wears red in April, celebrating Autism Acceptance Month #WearRedInstead

“No two brains are the same, and we celebrate that here at Reach. There’s a whole movement happening within the autism community, to move away from just awareness and to focus on acceptance, honoring people as they are. Moving beyond awareness that autism exists, into a mindset that values and celebrates it.  At Reach we are committed to advocating alongside autistic individuals and families, so they feel safe, supported, and accepted for who they are.”– Amy Rich Crane, Executive Director

In years past, the color blue has been established as the staple for Autism Awareness in April, in association with Autism Speaks. More recently, the color red #WearRedInstead has been adopted by those in the autistic community as a way of creating change in the Autism Awareness movement.  To these people, the color blue has a negative representation.  Wearing red is their way of promoting acceptance rather than awareness, to celebrate differences, and to move away from the finding a ‘cure’ mentality.

At Reach for the Top Therapy, we honor autism as we provide trauma-informed, neurodiverse-affirming therapies for families in the Dover, NH area. Reach is on a continuous journey to do better than traditional models have in the past for the neurodiverse population as a whole.  We commit to learning more, sharing that information and applying it, so that we may best support the unique needs of our children, friends, family, and community members who are autistic.

This journey started with gaining insight into the lived experiences and voices of Autistic adults.  Which included inviting an Autistic Adult to share her experiences as a mother of two children receiving services with our staff.  She provided valuable feedback and spoke up about ways that would better support her family in learning new strategies, emphasizing that what works for some families doesn’t work for all, and many neurodiverse might not feel comfortable communicating that.  Ideas were generated, including more ways for therapists to provide information, and ways for families to participate in their child’s therapeutic journey.  These changes improved this mother’s overall experience and began the conversation for how to identify needs and shape delivery to meet neurodiverse families where they are at for future families.

What is autism? 

Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is considered a neurodevelopmental or brain-based difference, where the structures and connections in the brain are wired differently. Signs that a child or person are Autistic may be identified by their patterns of communication, socialization, sensory processing, and behavior. It is a spectrum disorder, and the characteristics and way they impact the person vary widely among individuals.

Given that every Autistic person is different, just as every non-autistic person is different, there is no way to group one way that autism presents.  In an effort to educate others and capture the shift in how Reach views autism, we will share some examples.  Autistic people have many strengths based on the way their brains work, strengths that others may miss or misunderstand.  For example, with Autism, the part of the brain involved in visual processing is usually larger and has stronger connections.  So noting details and learning visually is often a strength, when others’ instead focus on challenges with verbal and/or nonverbal communication, because it doesn’t align with the receiver’s expectations.  Others may see repetitive behaviors or interests as distracting, when to the person they are helping them focus and engage by regulating an overwhelmed sensory system. They may have sensory processing needs that present as being sensitive to certain sounds, lights, textures, or smells.  These differences are not inherently ‘bad’, but others’ reactions can signal that they are.  Invalidating these very real sensitivities may sound like a parent, teacher, or community member saying “stop doing that”, “it’s not a big deal”, “you’re overreacting” or “don’t be so sensitive” which minimalizes their feelings.  At Reach, we use a lens of curiosity to identify why the child acts in a certain way and then help the family and other caregivers in the child’s life understand the ‘why’ to further support the child.

Autism often manifests in early childhood and is usually diagnosed through behavioral evaluations and assessments. The focus of outpatient therapy at a neurodiverse affirming clinic like Reach, would be to help the child and family understand the child’s needs better, to get in-sync through play, find tools to help the child feel regulated for longer periods of time, help the child and family learn to advocate for the child’s needs and get them met across different settings, and to meet any goals the child and family may set for greater independence in areas like eating, dressing, communicating, and more remembering that it is going to look different for each child and family based on their needs, strengths, interests, and values.

What is the right language to use when talking about autism? 

With the Autism Acceptance Movement, the preferred mindset at Reach, we use an identity-first approach, meaning that therapy clients are referred to as ‘autistic children’ or ‘autistic teenagers’, instead of children or teenagers with autism. By using identify first language, we validate Autism as part of who they are versus something they have, like it is an accessory. Additionally, using words like therapies and support, as opposed to treatments, adds to the positive acceptance message. Most in the community say autism “is part of who I am,” and it is not seen as something that’s wrong or needs to be fixed.  Bottom line for best practice though, when in doubt, it is never a bad idea to ask the individual how they prefer to be addressed.  “Keeping that communication open as people grow in their identity journey” – Amy Shaw, Neurodiversity Advocate and Mother.

Autism is a disability.  

In the disability community, we commonly see neurotypicals (non-autistics) and the non-disabled shying away from the word disability because some associate it negatively. However, the disabled population is taking that word back and claiming it as “part of who I am.”   More people are feeling comfortable self-identifying as a disabled person, advocating for their equal right to exist as themselves in the world.  There is a lot of significance in these movements, in terms of how society treats people and Reach is committed to playing a supportive role in these movements, as it pertains to how we provide support when working with children with disabilities and their families.

“Actively advocating to end use of the color blue and the puzzle piece which signifies Autistics are puzzling and have missing pieces, many within the Autistic community have more recently adopted the rainbow infinity symbol to represent Autism.  They believe because it is a spectrum, beautiful with lots of different colors representing how individualized and unique each person is.  Autism is a part of someone, and should be as valued as any other part of their mind, body, and personality that makes them their unique self.”– Amy Rich Crane, Executive Director

How Reach addresses the individuals’ needs within the community 

“Realizing that your child has needs you may not know how to meet, and the uncertainty surrounding finding the right strategies can be daunting. Which is why, at Reach our therapists are trained in some of the top affirming therapy strategies and models, are actively listening to Autistic voices and lived experiences, are committed to learning more to help families on their journey based on the child’s abilities, interest, and needs. Where the onus to change is not just the child’s responsibility, but a focus is put on how to shape the environment, increase access to support, and help their caregivers and the child understand their body and advocate for the child’s needs.  At Reach we are focused on being a leader in the paradigm shift, with an emphasis on neurodiversity and satisfying the need within the Autistic community for affirming, individualized therapies.” – Amy Rich Crane, Executive Director

Traditional therapies generally use compliance-based methods to shape and train a person with disabilities to ‘fit’ the thought and behavior patterns of the neurotypical world. Despite behavioral-compliance approaches like Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) being well-researched and widely accepted in the medical community, Autistic autism researcher Henny Kupferstein (2018), found increased PTSD symptomatology in autistic individuals exposed to ABA. She is one of the academics favoring relationship-based interventions, and she focuses on music as a tool.

Accordingly, Reach strives to embrace a relationship-based model, looking at the interaction between parent and child, and their relationship with their environment, which can help determine what is and isn’t working.

For example, oftentimes the child’s responses to sensory stimuli aren’t fully understood by family members, which can create unwanted stress and anxiety for the entire household. Addressing issues like these and creating awareness around the needs of the child and other individuals in the household can have an incredibly positive impact on the day-to-day.  When parenting any child, child development experts are looking at goodness of fit, how well the child’s temperament, strengths, needs, and preferences match the caregivers, and how in-sync or attuned the parent is in reading the child’s cues and needs, while then helping them meet them with the resources and skills they have.  If there is a mismatch in needs or resources, we try to develop that with both the child’s and caregivers’ participation, understanding, and growth.

Reach therapists use affirming practices such as, the Learn Play Thrive Approach, the Developmental, Individual-Differences & Relationship (DIR floortime) and Social Communication, Emotional Regulation, and Transactional Supports (SCERTS), which promote trust and play-based strategies while capitalizing on their strengths.

“If you can build upon those skills intrinsically through play, engagement, trust, relationship, and fun, it has a much more powerful and positive connection in the brain.  In addition, by using a variety of sensory toys, tools, and experiences, you enrich that learning further, activating more areas in the brain to make stronger connections quicker. We combine clinical experience, lived experience from disabled children and adults, and research, to get to the outcomes sought by the child and family.  This starts by connecting to them, becoming curious about their preferences, skills, routines, behavior, needs, and interests, thinking about the person as a whole and the family as a unit.” – Amy Rich Crane, Executive Director

Reach recently added a sensory room that focuses on co-regulation through each child’s preferred sensory strategies. Research has shown that children learn new skills through play (especially sensory enriched play) with nearly 200 fewer repetitions than by teaching it verbally or by practicing rote activities over and over. For this reason, the sensory room features specialized lighting effects, mirrors, a sensory fidget calming tool kit, a lego wall, obstacle courses which often include a ball pit, body socks, crash pads, a rock wall a light up table, music; all these tools can be used by the child in play, while also developing their coordination, planning, problem-solving and regulation skills, help them get to the just-right energy level and/or regulate big feelings that they need to work through.

Tools are picked based on child’s interest, strengths, and areas of growth, with the mindset that we all can benefit from coaching in learning new skills to be successful.  We use this model, instead of focusing on negative behaviors or challenges that may arise when a child is struggling to participate in their daily routines.  In outpatient therapy and child development, if the activity is not meaningful or have several components of fun for the child, then you’re doing it wrong, because all kids learn best through play.  Even as adults, we know we learn skills faster when we are interested in them, as intrinsic motivation plays a big part in learning.  When working with Autistic children we focus on respecting the way their brain works, meeting them where they are at, highlighting the good, helping them with goals that are meaningful to them, and helping their family advocate for their child’s needs in a world that is currently set up for neurotypical success.

“We want to work alongside Autistic individuals to help them grow their advocacy efforts, because it’s their life. They need to know that they are bright, beautiful, wonderful human beings that may face a lot of uninformed people, even well-intentioned people that may be missing the mark. If someone feels like they’re not being valued, or has shame or guilt being put on them, they need to know they can speak up and say, ‘My brain works differently– I need X, Y, and Z as atool,’ and know they’re being heard.” – Amy Rich Crane, Executive Director

When people ask why we do what we do, it’s all about supporting children, empowering families, and for moments like this, hearing Autistic voices say “At Reach I feel safe, I feel understood, and I feel like we are a team all working together to make change.”  – Amy Shaw, Neurodiversity Advocate and Mother.

Discover Reach’s specialized approach to affirming therapies that support Autistic children and empower their families at https://reachftt.org

To learn more about Autism Acceptance, visit https://autisticadvocacy.org/

How donations bring a non-profit clinic’s specialty programs to life

Donations are a critical source of support for nonprofit organizations, which rely on donations from individuals, corporations, foundations, and other sources to carry out their mission and programs. At Reach for the Top Therapy, the only therapy clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering interdisciplinary trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies through a family-centered model, donations are the driving force behind supporting specialty programs for enriched care. 

Last year, Reach received close to $200,000 in grants and donations. These funds helped the organization exceed its goals, increasing the number of children and families served to more than 600 and expanding specialty services to 15 programs. One of the biggest achievements directly resulting from donations is a new multi-sensory room for Autistic and neurodivergent children that aligns with the shift from traditional therapy models to ones that accept and advocate for those with disabilities, that are shaped by the voices and experiences of Autistic adults and children and anyone with sensory processing challenges: 

“We are committed to adapting to the needs of those we serve and doing so in a way that accepts and respects their needs.  With this in mind, we designed a calming space-themed sensory room where children feel comfortable and safe. It is designed for sensory play and equipped with lights, sounds, mirrors, crash pad pillows, fidgets, toys, and a rock wall to help with assessing and meeting each child’s individual needs for regulation. As a complement, we also created a visual space where children have access to assessments and functional vision training to help them strengthen their vision, due to current estimates that over 40% of neurodivergent children have an underlying vision disorder that’s not diagnosed or treated.  With over 80% of what we learn comes through vision, this is a critical need we are prepared to meet at Reach” – Amy Rich Crane, Executive Director

A generous grant of $132,000 allowed the organization to facilitate continuing education for therapists, and to focus on fully developing a workplace culture where everyone can thrive. The investment of funds into therapeutic skill development, hiring, and training ensures that children can continue to get the high-quality, advanced, and specialized care they deserve. Following organizational improvements and staffing changes in the summer of 2022, Reach’s full-time therapist retention rate has steadily remained at 100% with a team that is working together, engaged, and empowered to make big things happen at Reach, including their own growth. The commitment to hiring and supporting the right team members also makes a positive impact on the children and families served who develop strong therapeutic relationships with their therapy team. 

Donations help Reach fulfill its Neurodiverse Affirming Mission

In 2023 Reach looks to expand its fundraising efforts led by the Executive Director, the Board of Directors, and the Development and Fundraising Coordinator, Katie McGrath, who is responsible for drafting grant applications and developing fundraising activities. Although a significant portion of Reachs operational expenses is covered by appointments and insurance payments, what allows the organization to deliver on its mission is the additional donations and support received from donors and grants: 

“Without the additional financial support from donors, further development of specialty programs, parent support groups, and continuing education for therapists wouldn’t be possible. Initiatives like our Giving Tuesday campaign, social media appeals, our annual fundraising event in the summer, and other events are very important to us.” – Katie McGrath, Development and Fundraising Coordinator 

All the accomplishments and work behind the scenes are done toward the same objective: that children with exceptional needs thrive when their families are empowered and their strengths are valued!

Get involved and help Reach continue to expand and thrive

There are several ways you and the community can help Reach expand its network of donors. The first is donating to fundraising initiatives taking place throughout the year. And if you can’t contribute, raising awareness and sharing the campaigns are also a great form of support. Below are some of Reach’s fundraising activities planned for 2023: 

As we enter the new season, Reach seeks to get the community involved in its Amazon Wishlist. This is a simple way to have a proven impact, as any individual can purchase the materials the organization needs for its daily therapy sessions. These can range from toys to stickers, to coloring supplies, or materials for sensory activities. 

NH Gives is a 24-hour statewide online fundraising event, initiated by the NH Center for Nonprofits, designed to “build community and connect donors with local nonprofits.” Reach is currently looking for corporate sponsors to match donor dollars, to increase the impact of every donor dollar given.

  • First Annual Reach Art Auction – August (more details to come)

The First Annual Reach Art Auction will highlight art created by children with disabilities during their therapy sessions with their therapists and family. Not only does this provide a platform to spread awareness of what is being done at Reach through play-based work, but also engages children in a fun skill-building activity, bolstering their confidence.  Reach has also begun receiving pieces of art, donated by local artists for the auction, which is another way the community can contribute.  Contact the Reach team if you are interested in donating a piece of original artwork to be auctioned!

What we can do together

It’s becoming harder and harder to grow in the current economy. Reach has been met with increasing costs of rent and utilities, nationwide hiring shortages, and decreased attendance rates in pediatrics due to atypical and ongoing illness seasons (super-bugs, Flu, RSV, COVID-19), paired with the onslaught of New England snowstorms this year.  So, Reach is making a big strategic transition away from primarily insurance-based revenues to a combined approach based on philanthropy, by developing partnerships with donors that care for the well-being of children and families.  Grants, donor partnerships, and fundraising will provide the increased support Reach needs, so they can continue to grow the opportunities available to the community, continue to hire exceptional therapy professionals, and always be able to provide that one-on-one enriched family-centered care they’re committed to.  Donor support plays a pivotal role in improving the quality of services, specialty programs, and initiatives at Reach. When you partner with Reach for the Top Therapy Services, you give more than money, you give incredible opportunities that help children with exceptional needs thrive within our community.

Join Reach on the mission to help children and families with exceptional needs: Click here to donate today.

Grow your Career through the Junior Leadership Program at Reach

Reach for the Top is a non-profit organization and the only therapy clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering interdisciplinary trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies through a family-centered model.  Based on the uniqueness of their service delivery to meet the needs of children and families, they are committed to contributing to the education of the next generation of therapists and leaders.

Through a Junior Leadership Program, therapists with the desire to take on greater challenges outside of typical therapy-based growth and development, are able to interview for additional roles that collectively make it possible to provide the many specialty services available at Reach to meet the ever-changing needs of the community. These additional responsibilities directly support the organization’s commitment to connecting with the community, being informed by their needs, while also building upon the employee’s skillset, inspiring voices and ideas internally and externally that ultimately grow the organization.

Employees in Junior Leadership roles excel at and further strengthen their time management, organization, interpersonal skills, prioritization, and goal-directed persistence through these roles.

The organization also provides a six-week mentorship program for all employees on-boarding that allows each therapist to build a caseload while learning more about Reach‘s core values and therapeutic standards, including best practices in documentation, while also learning about and accessing the vast array of education and mentor-based learning opportunities available. The opportunities for education include sponsored continuing education, weekly lunch-and-learns, case care coordination, and weekly team time to maintain the positive and connected culture Reach has worked hard to develop over this last year.  Reach is committed to supporting each employee by coaching and recognizing individual performance while giving them the tools to optimize their growth.  This supports the employee while meeting the organization’s mission to provide high-quality care.  The current team has shown the highest levels of cohesiveness, inclusiveness, collaboration and professionalism that the organization has ever seen.  Continuing that growth in culture is a priority for Reach in 2023.

In addition to mentorship and junior leadership opportunities, the organization also hosts 4-8 student fieldwork/externships, observation hour placements, and/or CFY placements throughout the calendar year.  Sharing our experience with the next generation of future therapists and learning from each student that passes through and/or joins the team following graduation.

Work on your passions while gaining leadership and communication skills

With hiring and team expansion as another top priority for 2023, the organization has growth opportunities for more experienced professionals and opportunities for new therapists as well.  Over the last year, several therapists at Reach have implemented passion projects, where staff pitch their ideas to the leadership team for program development.  The leadership team then assists in co-creating a roadmap to turn their ideas and passion into a reality, expanding the opportunities for specialty services for both staff and the exceptional children and families we serve.

Rachel Babcock is the Community & Client Services Coordinator and a Speech-Language Pathologist at Reach. Beginning in social media and outreach for the organization, she was afforded the opportunity to expand upon an idea around enriched thematic group activities. After COVID hit, she found that “families communicated worries about their child’s socialization due to limited playgroups or community outings. Many families also wanted a place to meet and collaborate with other parents about their child’s therapies.” Through Rachel’s observations, impeccable organization skills, ability to connect with others, and with the support of the leadership team around her, another specialty therapy service was created.

“Reach’s leadership team is always looking for ways for employees to grow their skills and expand on their interests and passions. I am grateful to work for a team that supports my ideas and passion projects. Some of the highlights of Reach’s leadership style emphasize strong communication skills with employees, always looking for feedback and ways to improve, and an openness to all communication and learning styles.” – Rachel Babcock

Katie McGrath is the Development and Fundraising Coordinator and an Occupational Therapist at Reach. In April 2022, as a new graduate, following 8 months of consistently demonstrating dedication, exceptional communication skills, and a natural ability to engage others, Katie entered the Junior Leadership position as the Development and Fundraising Coordinator. Her tasks include finding donors, researching and reaching out to foundations, drafting grant applications, collaborating with sponsors, and developing other fundraising opportunities, like our upcoming Art Auction this summer. Katie spoke of her experience:

“I believe so deeply in Reach’s mission and I find it so rewarding to work directly with kids, supporting them as they work so hard to reach their goals. On top of that, I’m in a position, with this leadership role, to connect with the community beyond our patients and families, raising awareness about this amazing mission we have here. As a non-profit organization, we do rely on philanthropy to help fill in gaps in funding, so we can continue to expand our services, therapist training, and access to care for the families that we serve.” – Katie McGrath

Robyn Thomas is now the Director of Clinical Services and an Occupational Therapist. Passionate about her work, Robyn has worked for Reach for almost 7 years as an Occupational Therapist.  Under new leadership, Robyn’s skills and passions, including her exceptional attention to detail, were recognized in her first Junior Leadership role as the Quality Assurance Manager in 2022.  Showing many strengths in that role, when the role of Director of Clinical Services was developed, she capitalized on her strengths and put many hours into developing areas of growth, asking questions, improving processes, and showing tremendous growth.  She excels at finding the win-win to support staff and clients with their needs.  Currently, she plays a large role in onboarding new team members, making sure that they feel supported by their mentor, and supporting the mentor in identifying strengths and weaknesses, then tailoring support needed based on communication and learning styles.  She says that mentorship is a “great opportunity for new staff, but also for current staff who are able to support newcomers. They are able to guide and help them, share their knowledge, help them manage workflow while giving the mentor leadership experience and building their confidence.”

Grow in your career as a Student Site Coordinator at Reach

Currently, Reach is seeking a Student Fieldwork Site Coordinator: The ideal applicant is an experienced physical therapist, speech-language pathologist, or occupational therapist. This position involves oversight of the student program and requires close collaboration with the 8 colleges and universities currently contracted for internships. 

Other requirements include:

  • Experience supervising students

  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills, including giving constructive feedback

  • The ability to match staff with students

  • Availability to supervise and provide support to staff members

Stay tuned, because Reach has plans to expand opportunities for additional junior leadership positions later this year.

Learn more about Reach for the Top Therapy Services by listening to the New Hampshire Children’s Trust podcast, New Hampshire Family Now, featuring an interview with Executive Director, Amy Rich Crane: Click to listen.

How Aquatic Therapy Benefits Children with Exceptional Needs

The aquatic therapy program at Reach for the Top is a sensory-enriched approach to Occupational, Physical, and Speech therapies, that focuses on using the properties of the water, to provide input to the brain and body through play.

What does aquatic therapy consist of?

As the name indicates, aquatic therapy consists of exercises and activities performed in the water, typically in temperature-controlled swimming pools. For children and families receiving care at Reach, the aquatic therapy program takes place at a local pool in the Dover, NH, area every Wednesday from 1 to 4 pm, in 45-minute-long sessions.

The partnership with this local hotel started in September 2022 and the families participating in this program have responded positively. Many parents are amazed at how much fun their children are having as they work hard on challenging skills that they often have more difficulty participating in on land. Robyn Thomas, who started the aquatic therapy program at Reach and is its current Lead and Clinical Supervisor, highlights that this program is designed to use each child’s current swimming ability, so that aquatic therapists can help children accomplish their goals by following the child’s lead, which is a philosophy that Reach highly values. This quieter time at the pool also provides a safe and motivating environment for children to learn and gain new skills through play, which is another one of the distinctive aspects of Reach’s family-centered approach.

Katie McGrath, one of the therapists in the aquatic program, agrees that this is one of the organization’s most popular programs: “Sometimes the biggest challenge is getting them out of the pool, as for some children, aquatic therapy almost makes them feel like they’re on vacation!”

What conditions can be treated with aquatic therapy?

There are many physical, neurological, cognitive, and sensory conditions that benefit from aquatic therapy programs such as arthritis, balance disorders, autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit disorder, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, developmental delays, cognitive disorders, scoliosis, chronic pain, multiple sclerosis, tendonitis, and joint pain, among others.

At Reach, the aquatic therapy program is focused on children with exceptional needs who may struggle with emotional regulation, decreased strength, endurance, and/or balance, high/low muscle tone, delays in motor milestones, anxiety, sensory stimulation issues, and speech and language development. In a child-led model of therapy as play, patients of the aquatics program can use water to build up skills in a fluid environment to help them gain strength, independence, and confidence to participate in life’s activities.

What are the benefits of aquatic therapy?

Aquatic therapy has numerous benefits for children who have sensory processing and self-regulation challenges as water creates a unique, therapeutic environment by providing gentle and consistent pressure throughout the entire body. This creates a very calming effect for many children that tend to seek this out on land in large amounts (i.e., constantly squeezing themselves into a tight space, wrapping up in a heavy blanket, or wearing heavy/compressive clothing materials), increases attention span, and improves body-spatial awareness as this input allows children to be able to better “feel” where they are in space.

Furthermore, the weightless feeling gained from submerging the body into the water helps children develop and enhance their social-emotional skills because it allows children to feel lighter, which makes it easier for them to move in the water. This decreases anxiety, reduces impulsive tendencies, improves mood, and gives children more confidence to explore new ways to move their bodies that they might not be motivated to try on land.

Playing in the water is also very fun and motivating. One unique benefit of the location of Reach’s aquatic therapy program is that the majority of the other children in the water are also participating in aquatic therapy, which creates many opportunities for small social groups of 2 children with their occupational and speech aquatic-trained therapists to form during each session.

Moreover, aquatic therapy is also very beneficial for children participating in physical therapy. Children with low/high muscle tone, decreased endurance/strengthening, acute and chronic pain, motor planning/coordination challenges, and other physical conditions can use the low resistance that the water provides to enhance mobility, decrease pain, increase joint support, improve coordination, promote muscle strengthening, endurance, and enhance breath control, which is very important in speech therapy too. The aquatic therapy program at Reach is, like all the other therapeutic programs offered by the organization, child-led and respectful of each child’s skills and comfort level. For Robyn Thomas, this is what allows for every session to be different and to involve a wide range of activities:

“Typically, we play games, use toys, or do pretend play. One very popular activity that many of our younger children enjoy is scooping and dumping, while diving games are often played with many of our older children as examples. For kids that are more comfortable in the water, they often challenge themselves by creating multistep, underwater obstacle courses for more complex play. While at other times, these kids prefer to play basketball and might invite another child to join in with them. And we also offer poolside activities such as building water marble mazes on a wall for the kids who don’t know how to swim or who aren’t yet comfortable enough to go in the water. No matter what the swimming ability of the child is, there is always something fun for them to explore.”

For therapist Katie McGrath, aquatic therapy allows the children and the therapist to work in unique ways: “We work with a lot of kids that have difficulty with body awareness, and in the water, you get a lot of feedback every time you move. So, this is a fun way to learn and it can’t really be replicated in the clinic environment.”

How to become an aquatic therapist?

All of the therapists in Reach’s aquatic therapy program are required to obtain a specified number of certificate hours in aquatic therapy best practices, while also having the opportunity to expand that training through additional continuing education opportunities and/or mentorship. And as Reach employees are encouraged to pursue their passions, the organization also provides additional support to help therapists fulfill the training requirements for areas of interest. Robyn Thomas, who started the program, saw the Aquatic therapy program as an opportunity to share her passions as an occupational therapist, swimmer, and former lifeguard:

“When the opportunity to start a new program at Reach came up, I was eager and excited to volunteer. I have over 11 years of experience as a competitive swimmer, and swimming has always given me so much joy in my life. Even at a very early age before I started competing, I was always eager to find a pool to swim in. I just loved the feeling of swimming underwater because it is fun, gave me confidence, and made me feel invincible because I taught myself to do unique things like: doing ten backwards somersaults in slow motion, or balancing while walking underwater in a handstand position without my hands ever touching the bottom of the pool. I wanted to share this excitement and passion with the families I provide OT services to at Reach, so that each child can experience this same type of joy and confidence while working on their therapeutic goals in a fun and motivating way.”

Whereas Katie McGrath, who joined Reach last year as a newly graduated occupational therapist, sought training in aquatic therapy before starting this new position, which helped her be more comfortable in the water.

Find your dream therapy job at Reach for the Top NH

As the Aquatic therapy program and other specialty programs at Reach expand, so does the need to onboard more therapists to serve more families in the Seacoast. Currently, with a staff of almost 15, Reach is looking for more physical therapists and speech therapists to join the team. Additionally, a new student coordinator position has been added as an opportunity for any Occupational, Physical, or Speech Therapist to become a junior leadership member of the Reach team as the organization’s student program continues to expand.

With hiring as one of the top priorities for 2023, the organization has growth opportunities for more experienced professionals, as well as opportunities for new therapists. If you’re interested in working as a therapist, or know someone who might be, visit the vacancies below:

Physical Therapy: https://www.indeed.com/viewjob?jk=ae6841a29ff9ee0d

Speech Therapy: https://www.indeed.com/viewjob?jk=0b124c75cac3c060

StudentCoordinator: https://www.indeed.com/viewjob?jk=a5f2b249b6da41c8

Reach for the Top NH is a non-profit organization and the only family-centered clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering interdisciplinary trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies.

New Hampshire Non-Profit Wraps up 2022 with 15 Specialty Programs, Over 600 families served in the Seacoast, and nearly $200,000 in Grants and Donations

New Hampshire non-profit wraps up 2022 with 15 new specialty programs, over 600 families served in the Seacoast, and nearly $200,000 in grants and donations

This year was a successful one for Reach for the Top, a non-profit organization which provides outpatient occupational, physical, and speech therapy services focused on a family-centered model. Under new leadership since 2021, it is the only clinic in the Dover, NH, area offering interdisciplinary trauma-informed and neurodiverse-affirming therapies to children with exceptional needs.

The clinic’s strategic focus for 2022 was to further develop specialty programs – like hippotherapy, aquatic therapy, parent support groups and a new life skills room; invest in therapists’ continued education, create new leadership positions, expand fundraising and push for best practices concerning diversity and inclusion of people with disabilities. And data from the yearly roundup confirms that these goals were indeed met.

Keep reading to know more about all of Reach’s achievements in 2022!

A consolidated mission, record fundraising results and thriving children and families are the top milestones of 2022

One of the key accomplishments of the year was the revision of Reach’s mission and vision under the mantra “Nothing About Us, Without Us”, which expresses the conviction that people with disabilities know what is best for them. This reflects the values of the five women with disabilities that lead the organization, and Reach’s mission now emphasizes tailoring services to the needs voiced by those served, with a focus on empowering the family, and providing trauma-informed, respectful, and affirming therapies, all to ensure the child thrives.

Due to the success of this family-centered mindset, in 2022, the organization gathered several parent testimonials highlighting the positive impact of therapy, including more participation in extracurriculars, the ability to make friendships, developing healthy family routines and relationships, fewer expulsions from school, and lots of growth.

“Starting OT services at Reach was one of the best decisions I ever made for my 6-year-old son. His therapist knew right away how to ease his anxiety about overcoming challenges and creates endless opportunities for him to have fun while working on skills that he has been struggling to master. I, myself have learned how to understand my child better and we’ve formed a deeper connection because of our experiences here.”

And to bring its refreshed mission to life, Reach expanded the platforms and ways of making donations, with the fundraising teams securing five new major donors. As a result, in 2022, Reach received nearly $200,000 in grants and donations to support and develop specialty programs, and to focus on fully developing a workplace culture where everyone can thrive. These funds allowed the organization to increase the number of children and families served to more than 600, and to expand the offer of specialty services to 15 programs.

Agile leadership and continued education were key developments this year

On the human resources front, Reach also achieved notorious developments. Not only did the organization grow its board of directors to nine highly skilled and passionate individuals that are ready to push it forward strategically, it also created additional junior leadership opportunities, bringing more voices and passion to the decision-making table. In 2022, junior leads’ initiative was rewarded with additional paid time off. And to support new-hires as they acclimate to the organization, this year also marked the creation of a new onboarding mentorship program.

Following the leadership changes last year and the updating of Reach’s core mission and vision, the teams worked on alignment and healthy communication using the DISC assessment, which describes four main personality profiles: D is for Dominance, I is for Influence, S is for Steadiness, and C is for Conscientiousness. The goal was to ensure that everyone shares a positive, growth-centered, team-focused mindset and understand differences in communication styles, which is of value when hiring new staff.

Moreover, investment in learning and training for therapists is one of the top priorities for Reach as it ensures that children and families are getting high-quality care, and it allows the therapists to further their passions and skills. In 2022, each therapist took anywhere from 30 to 200 continuing education credits to further develop their skills, and everyone participated in knowledge sharing sessions with the team following completion of the course, sparking new thoughts, strategies, programs, and outcomes. The organization also developed a quality assurance program to provide support to therapists and the administration relating best practices in documentation and overall compliance.

2022 was the year to connect with the community and raise awareness about the inclusion of people with disability

And finally, nobody would know 2022 was a great year for Reach if it weren’t for the organization’s efforts in communications, advocacy and spreading awareness, governance and structure, further supported by consultants Gayle O’Connor from HR-ROI, Christine Strong from Strong Resource Group, and Molly and Maria from GoodWork. The most visible achievement of the year is the design and development of Reach’s new website, which captures and promotes the work that is being done, thanks to collaboration with Kelly at TapHouse Media.  Reach’s social media efforts were also more thoroughly developed thanks to a new junior leadership position, focused on community and client relations.

Other initiatives carried out in 2022 include participating in in-house and public events around the topics of therapy and disability. For example, Reach’s Director Amy Rich Crane was part of a local trauma panel with 3 organizations and 2 police departments this year, talking about Reach’s efforts in trauma-informed therapies and spreading awareness of the need for care and support available. Moreover, the organization welcomed nine guest speakers throughout the year to talk about their disabilities, diversity, inclusivity, best practices, and unique ideas for pushing the needle forward with therapy.

Reach also established a new partnership with the University of New Hampshire (UNH), three local schools in Dover, and other non-profits as part of efforts to strengthen the community and spread disability advocacy awareness. The partnership with UNH is in addition to Reach’s collaboration with over 8 graduate schools, of which Reach consistently contributes to the next generation of students learning, which also brings in the latest ideas and research into the clinic with graduates that could later join Reach’s staff.

A growing team and reaching more families are on the horizon for 2023

Next year, Reach aims to further develop the leadership mindset where everyone’s voice is heard, and families also have a say in some of the organization’s decisions. Being a family-centered therapy clinic is the cornerstone of Reach’s identity and it has been proven this is a successful model. One of the key goals for 2023 is to expand hiring and bring on new members to the great team of experts already working in the organization.

Efforts to continue raising funds to offer quality services and additional specialty programs are year-end priorities, as is continuing to strengthen partnerships with local organizations that support Reach’s activity. In the end, all the accomplishments and work behind the scenes is done toward the same objective: that children with exceptional needs thrive when their families are empowered, and their strengths are valued!