“Wellness is not just the absence of illness. It’s living your best life despite whatever is going on in your life.”
So says Claudia Meyer, SaintA’s new occupational therapist. With decades of experience serving all kinds of individuals of all ages and situations, she says O.T. is a holistic practice that looks at a whole person and their environment, providing support and/or adaptations as needed to help that person function successfully in the life.
“It’s the definition of wellness,” she said.
Claudia will put her experience and methods to work with children and foster parents in SaintA’s child welfare department and with boys in the agency’s Residential Treatment program. Much of her practice is sensory-based, which she said meshes very well with SaintA’s focus on trauma informed care.
She gives an example of applying sensory principles on a consistent basis to bring about dramatic change in a client. The woman was about 20 but presented as a 3-year-old. She wanted to be under a table on a mat, holding onto teddy bears and similar baby toys and a sippy cup. She was not very verbal, but she told Claudia that if she had these things she could be OK.
So, when the woman came to Claudia, who provided crisis services — and on a regular basis in this case — Claudia would set up a bean bag chair or a rocker, let the woman sit under her desk on a mat and worked with her at the developmental level she was at. In time, and with measured consistency, the woman stopped biting and pinching Claudia, talked more, and progressed significantly.
“In the beginning, helping her focus on positive behavior was constant,” Claudia said. “In the end, I could set her up with an activity that she would do for three or four hours at a time. It was such a change, and it was an absolute pleasure to watch her being able to focus and engage, to be able to tell her, ‘See how far you’ve come!’ She in turn was proud to acknowledge that, ‘Yes, I can take care of myself.’”
That’s what she anticipates with her work at SaintA.
“For the children and families I am going to work with, it’s that focus on strengths that’s the important part. The job of an OT is to help someone feel, ‘I can!’”
Claudia’s work starts with a sensory assessment, “to show us how this little individual is being driven by their brain to interact with the world.” Then she creates what is called a sensory diet, to help children self-regulate and to teach foster parents how to help them get there. Ingredients run the gamut from playing ball, rocking or coloring, to sucking on a straw or blowing a cotton ball along the floor. She looks for internal and external feedback to determine how the brain and body function together. And every individual is different, so part of Claudia’s job is to find out what works for a particular person.
“A sensory focus is so simple yet so powerful. What it does is to change people’s lives. It provides the building blocks needed to allow them to step forward and really participate in life.”
In the past, children with behavioral issues often experienced blaming and shaming, she said, which doesn’t change their behavior – let alone their lives — at all.
“They can’t help being who they are. But when you help them find the power within themselves, they want to repeat the process because they know how much better they feel.
“That’s what wellness is. And it’s life-changing.”