Stimpson, 39, lives in New York City with his wife and two sons,
Alex and Edwin. He has been a working journalist for 15 years and
maintains JeffsLife, a site of essays at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy.
Therapists have been coming into my home for 13 months to work with Alex. After
he was born two years ago, he underwent everything from naso-gastric feeding and
callous jabbing of needles by nurses to medically induced paralysis, all during
what should have been crucial months of his development.
Thirteen months ago, nobody would say what Alex might be able to do, or not do,
in the rest of his childhood. So we got therapists for feeding and speech, as
well as occupational and physical therapy, as part of federally-funded Early
Remembering what we did with doctors for the 13 months that Alex lived in
hospitals, we sized up Alex's therapists as they came through the door. We
didn't want a therapist who came with simply a laundry list of
semi-medical activities for Alex and us. We wanted Alex to have fun.
"You're not looking for someone with a lot of shtick," says one of Alex's
therapists, Ron Doomchin, a special instructor in New York City. Ron has worked
wonders with Alex, who scampers into the hall bouncing with excitement whenever
Ron arrives. "You're looking for someone who comes in and sizes up the
situation. First impressions are important."
First on Ron's list was to teach Alex to listen to a flute. Then he taught
Alex to sit quietly and flip the pages of a book, then to track bubbles with his
Our therapists have been pretty good. He likes most of their toys; lately
he's happier to see Ron's toy bag than he is to see Ron. Another
therapist explained to me a chart of "normal" development and helped me figure
out how Alex might be ahead in some areas and behind in others. She also
recommended a babysitter. "Sometimes parents aren't informed, and they don't ask
enough questions," says Cheryl Rooney, Alex's OT. Ask about experience and
education, she advises. "You generally don't want people doing home therapy who
have less than one year's experience."
"Ask if they've worked with children who present different types of conditions
and challenges," Doomchin adds. "Ask if they know any of the people at the
agency that they're working at. Ask if they can recommend different types
of therapists and why. In explaining, they'll demonstrate their knowledge. Does
the therapist explain the materials and techniques without jargon? Taking the
time to explain long-term goals? Establishing communication? That leads to
finding out more about the knowledge of the therapist. Are they flexible?"
Inflexible therapists might not talk much and could be quick to dismiss a
parent's questions about a new therapy. One of Alex's early therapists,
for instance, criticized our collection of toys, insisted on using her own toys
instead of Alex's to teach him skills such as stacking, and would sometimes
spend a whole session making him reach for a toy without ever letting him touch
it -- despite the frustration on his face. She insisted we brush him, though he
seemed to get little from it. We got rid of her in a month.
"You kind of get a feeling for people," Rooney says. "And if you have a
therapist who's been treating your child for a couple of months and the
child screams in pain when the therapist comes through the door, then
Other tips include:
* Keep a notebook. Jill has a three-ring binder with one page devoted to
therapists' numbers for beepers, portables, home phones, and e-mail addresses.
You can never have too many ways to contact a therapist. Devote another section
to therapists' written entries, made once a month.
* Hang around during therapy, especially during the first month. Don't regard it
as a break time for you the parent until you feel sure the therapist and your
child are a good match. Always watch for how happy your child looks during
* Bear in mind that some therapists are quick to cross boundaries - especially
after they've attended a conference -- with OTs dispensing advice on vision, PTs
opining on feeding, and so on. Question a therapist you feel might be stepping
beyond his or her area of expertise.
* If your therapist and child seem happy with the arrangement, let the therapist
cross a boundary.
Good sites include:
The American Physical Therapy Association
Includes state-by-state listings of specialists and events.
The American Occupational Therapy
Includes breakdown of information for consumers, site map, and chat
of Congress, List of State Government Sites
Shortcut to sites for state governments, including state departments
of health that often oversee therapists' licensing.
This information is, with permission, being shared as a courtesy.