How aquatic therapy benefits children with exceptional needs

The aquatic therapy program at Reach for the Top NH 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 new 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!

What type of therapy is right for my child?

Reach for the Top now has 15 specialty therapies to choose from

 

Reach for the Top, a non-profit clinic in Dover, New Hampshire, provides therapeutic services to children with exceptional needs. Under new leadership since 2021, the clinic went from offering 7 specialized therapies to 15, all with family-centeredness at the heart of what they do, but now using a trauma-informed and neurodivergent affirming foundation as well. In this family-centered clinic, which is one of the things that sets it apart from otherin the Dover area, families can choose and combine more common approaches with innovative specialty services to develop a custom and individualized plan to supporting their child. 

What types of therapy are provided? 

 

Occupational therapy 

Occupational therapy helps children better navigate their environments through sensory experiences and play-based activities. Once children feel comfortable with their bodies, they are able to interact effectively with their peers and community, build friendships, play, and meet their own self-care needs, being able to gain independence is caring for themselves during daily routines, from feeding themselves, to dressing, bathing, hygiene, sleep, and more. Developing a sense of mastery while gaining independence in self-care areas is crucial to developing their executive function skills and in developing their self-esteem. 

 

Speech therapy 

Speech therapy encourages communication and language development to help children express themselves to their fullest potential and connect with their family, friends, and others in their community. Speech and language therapists teach children the tools to effectively interact with others, whether it be through verbal language, sign language, pictures, written language, technology or a combination of several. This allows them to build relationships, communicate their needs, and gain independence, creating a future of success. 

 

Physical therapy 

One of more commonly known types of therapy is physical therapy, where therapists help infants, children, and teens develop their gross motor skills, i.e., crawling, walking, running, jumping, climbing, working on strength, posture, endurance, speed/efficiency with motor tasks, coordination, and more, in order to be able to navigate their environment, play, and participate in their everyday routine activities that are important to them and their family. 

 

What specialty therapies and services does Reach provide? 

1. Hippotherapy Hippotherapy is the use of a horse’s movement to build strength, improve coordination, and so much more. This specialty approach to therapy can be beneficial for children with neurological conditions, as it facilitates the improvement of musculoskeletal system alignment and can also decrease pain and/or help children use their body more effectively during daily tasks.  It also provides tons of proprioceptive and vestibular sensory input to children that seek movement.  Being in the barn and with the horse helps children work on sequencing and following directions, safety concepts, and animals have a regulating therapeutic benefit of their own.  The children work on fine motor, gross motor, and vision-based skills at the barn, just like they would at the clinic. We have an excellent relationship with a local farm, have more therapists trained in this therapeutic tool, and have been able to expand this service to more families this year! 

 

2. Brace clinic For children in need of orthotics, hand, ankle, leg braces, or other medical supportive devices, Reach for the Top runs a brace clinic in partnership with an Orthotist Prosthetist focusing on being fitted for the right equipment to support mobility, posture, decreased pain, and much more, to help children with physical challenges fully participate across environments with the tailored support they may need 

 

3Infant Torticollis and Plagiocephaly Program Torticollis is when infants have head tilt and difficulty turning their necks, and plagiocephaly is when the back and/or the side of a baby’s head is flattened. Reach for the Top offers a specialized therapy program to address these conditions, which are highly treatable through therapy, a home program with focus on stretching through play, positioning, and sometimes corrective helmets, which Reach can have assessed at the clinic by a specialist. 

 

4. Therapeutic Listening & Quickshifts Therapeutic listening is a sound-based therapy developed to support children and teens who experience difficulties with sensory processing challenges. It provides stimulation to the auditory system through the use of specifically created music that stimulates the nervous system and the areas of the brain, which can have dramatic effects on the child and is a one of the unique supplemental specialty therapies provided 

 

5. Sensory Garden Through generous donations from Lowes and in collaboration with the Dover local library, Reach therapists and children have been able to put in and continue to cultivate a sensory garden, that has flowers chosen to activate different parts of the sensory system, and components to help children use their bodies, follow directions, and connect with nature. Our children, families, and therapists, love to focus on getting outside, jumping, climbing, digging, and using their senses to feel connected to themselves, others, and the Earth. 

6. Feeding therapy Feeding therapy supports parents and their children to ensure health, wellness, and participation in family mealsSome feeding and swallowing concerns are addressed in speech therapy and some are addressed in occupational therapy, regardless feeding therapy focuses on creating positive eating and drinking experiences to improve the childs overall mealtime routine and create positive associations with food. At Reach for the Topour feeding therapists have some of the top training available, including  in the SOS approach, food chaining, the Get Permission Approach, infant latch and transition to foods, transitioning from tube feeds to oral feeds, post-tie release, and the SOFFI protocol. 

 

7. Teletherapy Services During the COVID-19 pandemic, Reach was able to get additional trainingcomputers, and develop a teletherapy program where therapists are continuously supported in providing best-practice virtual occupational, physical, and speech therapies, to children and families within their home to help adapt to the family’s needs, continue care during mild illness, and overcome transportation challenges, including during bad weather. 

8. Aquatic therapy Reach’s new Aquatic therapy program 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 to help with regulation, participation, strengthening muscles and developing motor skills, and speech and language development, all through play. We find so many of our children find a real connection to the world through water and can learn some skills faster than on land.  We partnered with a new facility this year and have had the ability to provide more appointment times with more space and fewer costs to family, a real win-win!

 

9Neurodiversity and Trauma Parent Support Groups & Networking Reach developed a new parent support group program this year, where during thematic social groups for neurodiverse children and those impacted by trauma, the parents were able to connect in person, or via electronics, connecting them to other parents that are navigating challenges, systems, and therapies as they try to find the path that works best for their family. 

10Thematic Social Groups  Reach developed structured social groups where children that struggle with making friends and connecting with others were able to come to group with their 1:1 therapist and make those connections more naturally through play and not through drills. The children have weekly themes with fun games, art projects, motor challenges, and snacks to develop those skills with the support of their therapist in the context of play with friends. This approach aligns with a neurodiverse approach where the child is supported, while their unique traits are celebrated, not eliminated. 

11. Trauma responsive child-led therapy While all the therapies available at Reach for the Top are performed through a trauma informed lens, services offered also include specific trauma responsive therapies with DIR/ATTAcH/SAFE PLACE trained therapists that focus on supporting children and families that have endured adverse childhood experiences and need collaborative care, with focus on safety, attachment, sensory challenges secondary to trauma, and considers trauma precautions, as they focus on participating in meaningful and necessary routines at home.  Reach also commits to an ongoing trauma education and consultative mentorship with a professor from Northern Arizona University to further our skills in this area.

 

12New Life Skills Room Thanks to a donation from Lonza Biologics, Reach was able to turn their feeding room into a comprehensive life skills space with a countertop and the necessary supplies to prepare simple meals; a cash register and shopping games to practice many necessary skills; a letter writing mail station to work on writing, communication and bill paying; a laundry washing and drying station; and other fun tools to help bridge the gaps and prepare children for chores and early adulthood through practice and play. 

13. New STEM & Nature Nook Space Thanks to a donation from JPAC, Reach was able to create a new space in the clinic where STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) concepts come alive with hands-on building and learning toys and activity kits, with problem solving science experiments that develop a child’s thinking skills and an area with all natural materials that can be weighed and categorized, used to make crafts, be used in imaginary play, as part of sensory bins, and for math concepts. Enriching children’s lives with natural materials that can be found at home and outside, and with fun ways to learn skills that will lead to a lifetime of problem solving. 

14. Animal Assisted Therapy Reach is in the process of getting a certified therapy dog for the clinic. Adding an animal to therapy uses the power of the human-animal bond to help children feel more relaxed in sessions, to work on social, communication, and regulation skills.  

15AAC Evaluations for Devices In 2023 we plan to start monthly AAC Clinics to allow our therapists the necessary time to evaluate, analyze and interpret, and write up their findings to help more children gain access to their devices in quicker time. Supporting our children, families, and staff in making this happen, so that children with communication challenges can use other strengths to find a way to communicate where they feel confident, successful, and get their needs met. 

How do I know what type of therapy my child needs? 

 

Choosing a type of therapy that will follow your childs development is something you dont have to navigate alone. At Reach for the Top, families are invited to be part of the team, starting with the initial intake and then the first visit – an evaluation where the therapist will ask questions to determine what concerns the family has, how it is impacting the childs daily life, as well as strengths and interests the child has. 

Skilled observation by a therapist then determines what factors may be impacting the childs ability to participate in necessary tasks, and together with the parents, or caregivers, they co-create meaningful goals that are within the clinics scope of practice and are meaningful and necessary to the child and family. Health insurance coverage is also taken into account at this stage of the evaluation, so that families can make informed choices.  

The therapeutic team at Reach for the Top is always available to answer questions and provide insight into what therapy might look like. The goal is that every family feels like they gain a better understanding of their childs needs as they relate to the childs overall development and co-create a plan to help their child become successful, in a respectful, holistic, connected, and playful way that honors their strengths, interests, and values.

Nothing About Us, Without Us

“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.