An Inside Look at Occupational Therapy at Parkside

Occupational Therapy in an integral part of Parkside’s educational program. Our team of therapists provide treatment in the classroom and in a fully-equipped sensory gym in order to facilitate the improvement of fine motor skills, develop and refine handwriting skills, support improved sensory processing and self-regulation, and ultimately provide students with the tools they need to achieve greater independence at school and at home.

Parkside’s four Occupational Therapists – Christine Yen, Michelle Redler, Tara King and Shannon McDowell – are a close-knit team. They recently sat down together to respond to some questions about why they choose to work at Parkside. These are their responses.

What attracted you to Parkside?

Michelle: “From the moment I opened Parkside's website, to viewing the building's artfully decorated interior, and finally to walking into the extensively equipped OT room, I felt an energy at Parkside that is rare and unique. Environmental factors in a workplace are a very important aspect of job consideration, so the time, effort, support, and caring that was immediately obvious at Parkside was a huge attraction.”

What makes our school different?

Tara: “Where many other schools may speak of their mission to serve to meet the needs of the “whole child”, Parkside truly does take the time and effort to individually support each child in any way they need to thrive. Parkside has a large OT room, including a sensory gym area, with many materials and a lot of equipment as compared to other schools in NY. This school is unique with all the specialties it offers to enhance the growth of the students through art, gym, music, drama and yoga.” 

What are your favorite things about the OT program at Parkside?

Christine: “What I like most about the OT program at Parkside is the flexibility and the constant collaboration.  Our administration is open and willing to try new ideas that we may have to support our students.  For example, if we think a tool or activity might be helpful for a student, our administration has full faith that our objective is in the best interest of the child.  The second part is the constant collaboration.  It is inevitable with 4 OTs sharing one room that we may join forces during our treatment sessions if we have the same objective.  It also allows us to share ideas or a new perspective of treatment in the moment.  Eight eyes are better than two!”

Are there any ‘success stories’ that really stand out to you?

Shannon: “One of the best parts of my job is teaching kids to tie their shoelaces! It sounds simple, but in reality, it’s a complex task that requires following a multistep motor sequence and synchronizing both hands to perform different actions (bilateral coordination). I’ve seen many kids struggle with learning this skill—one in particular who was so hard on herself, she would often come to tears while practicing. The day that she mastered it, was truly amazing. I will never forget the smile on her face and the confidence she radiated with this new sense of independence! I was so proud of her, but more importantly, she was proud of herself!”

Christine: “During my fourth year at Parkside there was one student in 3-1 that struggled with regulating his body.  He could not sit, literally bouncing off the walls (like Tigger in Winnie the Pooh), could not attend to a lesson for more than 3 minutes, and could not participate during assemblies.  I remember him looking through the glass window during our Book Fair while the rest of his classmates were sitting in their seats listening to the author.  Eventually through his years at Parkside, he made tremendous progress that by his last year, he was an active member of Parkside singers, was the leading role in the play “Miz”, and no longer needed OT.  He had such a special place in my heart that during graduation, I was balling with tears of joy!  It was truly the most rewarding moment to see him all grown up and moving on to the next phase of his life.” 

Tara: “I have worked with a many children that have struggled with regulation while at Parkside. One in particular, would have very “BIG” reactions and would “get stuck” on anything that was different from what he thought was correct. In addition, handwriting was very difficult for him and he would have another “BIG” reaction when it was time to write in the classroom. Through years of working through frustration and providing him with the body/brain tools to work through these challenges, he was able to sit through assemblies, be flexible taking turns with others, agree to disagree in a courteous manner without overreaction, allow others to help him when needed, and following many after school sessions, write in print and cursive. I must say, though, that the success did not just come from what I saw him achieve but how happy he was just completing daily interactions and tasks.”

What surprises you most about the students at Parkside?

Shannon: “Parkside students are the best! They are honest, persistent, curious, and caring. What surprised me most when I first came to Parkside, was how strong the relationships were among students with each other, and with their teachers and therapists. Parkside students feel loved and supported, comfortable and content, which allows them to be available for learning and to reach their full potential. This has taught me the value of establishing a strong connection with every child I work with, and keeps me on my toes to stay creative, compassionate, and flexible to find ways to engage and connect. Parkside students inspire me to push on when challenged, to never give up, and to look for the strengths in each individual.” 

What has your experience been like working with Parkside parents?

Tara: “Two words:  absolutely lovely. Whether we correspond by email, phone or a chat in the lobby, Parkside parents are willing to try OT suggestions, follow through with carryover at home, and let us know what they have found helpful. I have formed strong connections with my parents over the years, as we both know that we love and support the children in all their achievements and difficulties along the way.”

What have you learned at Parkside?

Michelle: “I have learned that creativity can be fostered in a school environment through multiple channels. I have expanded my brainstorming process from bouncing ideas off my immediate OT coworkers, to drawing inventiveness from SPOT group collaborations and to gaining inspiration for treatment sessions gleaned from important information discussed at Team meetings.”

How does it make you feel knowing that so many parents, alumni and friends support Parkside’s Annual Fund?

Shannon: “Parkside is a special place with happy students that love to learn.  In fact, I had a parent share with me that even when their child was sick, they refused to stay home because they love coming to school so much!  He didn’t want to miss a single day at Parkside! Behind the red doors, magic happens.  Not only do our students receive outstanding academic services tailored to their individual needs, but Parkside’s commitment to the social emotional development of the child truly makes it stand out amongst other schools.”

Christine: “A financial gift to Parkside is an affirmation that our families and friends value Parkside’s mission and helps us to continue to make a difference in so many children’s lives. It’s a priceless investment in their future!”