The people I meet through my job inspire me every day. How many people can say that? As a pediatric occupational therapist, my ultimate goal is to help children function at their maximum potential.
The work of children is to play, learn and be active members of their families and communities. A child’s medical condition can get in the way of these activities. For example, a child with a neurological disorder may suffer muscle weakness, poor coordination and paralysis, which can hinder his or her physical and developmental growth.
Initiating occupational therapy during preschool years is most beneficial because this is when learning and development is occurring rapidly. It becomes more difficult for a child to learn particular skills after the preschool years.
I work with children who have sensory processing disorders (sensitivity to textures and clothing, for example), orthopedic injuries or developmental delays. During an occupational therapy session, we might work on several different areas, from fine and visual motor skills, to visual perceptual skills strengthening exercises or a range of motion exercises.
A patient who really made an impression on me was a 3-year-old girl with congenital musculoskeletal deformities. Initially, she could not hold her cup, color with a crayon, sit on a swing or crawl. But through weekly occupational therapy, she learned to feed herself, draw and assist with self-care tasks like dressing and bathing. She and her family are an inspiration to me.
They taught me a great deal about the power of determination and hard work. Long before I started working at Children’s, I was impressed with the staff. After one particular visit, I knew I wanted to work here. My daughter, who has both physical and cognitive challenges, had developed a deep fear of hospitals and doctors. I’ll never forget how the nurses put her at ease and kept her smiling, and how personable and kind the physicians were.
My personal experience as a parent of a special-needs child influences my approach with my patients and families. I know that many occurrences can interrupt a family’s routine and I always consider this when creating their home exercise program so that they can easily incorporate it into their day or combine it with other therapies.
My daily interactions with my patients have taught me to approach life with a fun, happy and hopeful outlook. I am inspired by their ability to surpass their goals in the midst of dealing with so many challenges. They have a unique way of spreading joy into your life.
It feels wonderful to come to work every day. I am proud to be a part of this special place we call Children’s.
Gina Landfair, OTR/L, cares for Children’s patients at the Westbrook Corporate Center, near the Children’s Outpatient Center in Westchester, Illinois.
This article first appeared in the winter 2010 issue of Heroes magazine.