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Pediatric Occupational Therapy Clinic Opens

By: Christine Borkowski
Posted: April 12, 2011

PHOTO: JMU Student and patientA young OT patient working on arts and crafts at the clinicWhen Elizabeth Richardson first arrived at JMU, she had an idea that would help the community as well as create hands-on opportunities for occupational therapy students. After four years of extensive planning and preparation, the JMU Occupational Therapy Clinical Education Services (JMU-OTCES) was created to benefit the children and teens of surrounding areas. "When we first got this process started there were no other pediatric OT services in this area," Richardson acknowledged. "People had to travel either to Winchester or Charlottesville, which are both an hour away."

The JMU-OTCES facility now located on W. Grace St. in Harrisonburg, is a therapeutic environment for patients ranging from newborns to teenagers. During its clinic hours Monday through Friday, clients with autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other conditions are treated. At the clinic, the pediatric occupational therapists, or OTs, address areas such as coordination, fine motor, play skills, self-care skills, sensory integration and social interaction. The general coaching approach uses play to allow patients to learn and develop in a non-threatening environment.

PHOTO: OTCES facilityThe OT clinic's "Play Station" has many tools that make their patients' visits enjoyableFour years ago when JMU-OTCES was merely an idea, Richardson started talking with different people about what it would take for the program to get started. Richardson and two OT students took a JMU College of Business class called Venture Creation (MGT 472). In the class they learned how to put a concept into action using a business model and strategy. Richardson and the students presented the business model to the Institute for Innovation in Health and Human Services for their input.

After IIHHS decided that the clinic was a great idea, the business plan went to the CISAT Dean, Sharon Lovell. In March 2010, JMU-OTCES opened initially in Blue Ridge Hall. When the clinic moved to its new W. Grace St. facility in November 2010, the OT staff held a grand opening for JMU administrators, faculty & staff, community professionals and families.

"We want to establish a partnership with the schools," Richardson explained. "We have an understanding of the special education system within the schools. Their focus is to address the educational needs of children. Sometimes there are needs outside of that, so we want to make sure they know there's a place to refer children who have needs outside of what they can provide through schools."

"We are piloting an interprofessional intervention approach as part of the Autism Center Planning initiative," Richardson said. "The current collaboration for this project includes faculty and students from the OT program, CSD, and graduate psychology." The clinic was also awarded a CISAT teaching and research grant to develop and implement an anti-bullying program.

PHOTO: OTCES facilityThe new JMU OTCES facility on W. Grace St.Richardson said, "There are many new developments. The interest in services from the community is growing." Richardson anticipates that the clinic will begin billing insurance within the next two months. "Our full-time OT [Heather Kennell] is seeing children for direct services, evaluations, and free screenings. She is currently leading three group programs including a social skills group, a self-regulation group, and a teen-skills group," Richardson explained. "[Kennell] is a perfect fit for this program. She's had her own business before and worked with children for a number of years."

"In addition to providing fieldwork placements for occupational therapy students, seven undergraduate students volunteer at the clinic on a weekly basis." Heather Kennell said. "Having a pediatric clinic on campus is a great opportunity for undergraduate students to learn more about occupational therapy."

The growing interest in this program from JMU staff and students as well as community members is bolstering the JMU occupational therapy program. JMU-OTCES is continuously accepting interns and volunteers in several areas. The ideal volunteer is someone who wants to learn more about occupational therapy or someone who simply enjoys being around children and families. The clinic presents students, faculty and community members with numerous opportunities to lend a helping hand and learn from each other.

Kennell has many hopes for the clinic. "I hope that OTCES will be known for providing high quality occupational therapy services, and will continue to strengthen its internship and volunteer programs." Kennell claimed. "I also hope that the clinic will continue to develop relationships with other JMU departments and community agencies to provide the best services possible to families in the Harrisonburg area."

View more photos of the OTCES facility.