For me, this was a summer of firsts.
It was my first time learning about pediatric therapies, first time working with children in a professional setting, first time assisting therapeutic sessions, and first time applying my skills to the real world. I was able to achieve all these firsts and more at The Boston Ability Center (BAC) in Natick, Massachusetts.
Jan Wade was inspired to begin a career in pediatric therapy after witnessing the incredible impact and improvement that physical therapy (PT) provided to victims of a polio outbreak while in Taiwan. Upon her return and work at Boston Children’s Hospital, she realized that families would benefit from a place where all sorts of pediatric therapies, not just PT, were consolidated in one place. She founded the BAC in 2010 which has provided its incredible services to children up to age 18 ever since.
I interned at the Natick location for three weeks. My first week was dedicated to assisting in various physical, occupational (OT), and speech therapy sessions. My responsibilities tended to be an extra set of hands to help clinicians set up, clean up, and have kids do activities ranging from obstacle courses to board games to sensory-toleration activities like putting toys in rice or playing with shaving cream. These hour-long sessions are child-led so the clinician often changes their plan to adapt to what their patient wants to do while also making sure they are still working towards their therapeutic goals.
Facilities at the Boston Ability Center in Natick
I specifically assisted with an “Intensive,” which is a type of therapy that is more frequent (meeting 3-5 times per week for 1-6 weeks) than traditional therapy (usually once a week for varying periods of time). I had the unique experience of being with one particular child every day of my first week and got to watch their progress firsthand. I followed this child through PT, OT, and Speech Therapy—observing impressive improvement throughout the week. They became more balanced and stable in PT, better at tolerating messiness in OT, and significantly more communicative and open to using their talking device in speech. Being the only person with this child every day, I was able to provide some insight to clinicians on trends I was noticing over the course of multiple days and types of activities that were working best (it tended to be anything involving a toy that made noise).
For my next two weeks, I assisted in the Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy (CIMT) Camp. The camp BAC provides is for children aged 3-10 affected by Hemiplegia, a type of cerebral palsy that causes one side of the body to be partially or completely paralyzed. Hemiplegia is most commonly caused from congenital stroke and affects 1 in 1000 people. CIMT is a type of therapy where children are casted on one side of their body to promote positive movement and function on the weaker side.
The CIMT camp is three hours long and runs for three weeks. The first two hours are dedicated to individual PT and OT sessions which are just like traditional therapy sessions. The only difference, and sometimes challenge, is that kids get more tired having multiple sessions back-to-back. In addition to the clinician they are working with, every camper is paired with an intern or clinic aid who helps get whatever they need whether that be water, snack, break, or their favorite toy to make sure they have the energy and positive attitude to work to achieve their respective goals. We also assist clinicians (which I had practice doing from my time in June) with sessions and write summary cards to give to the child’s parent/guardian.
The third hour is when all campers are together to do some group activities (some of which I prepped). This not only allows for fun relationship building between campers, but additionally lets every child know that they are not alone with Hemiplegia. I was so inspired by the campers' positive energy and hard work during sessions and loved watching all of them progress so amazingly over the course of each week!
Outside of the sessions and camp, the entirety of BAC’s clinicians and staff were extremely knowledgeable, kind, and willing to explain specific activities, goals, and concepts. I learned so much about the diversity of therapy, pediatrics, hemiplegia, and even what a healthy work environment looks and feels like at the BAC. I am so grateful to the Rivers community, Michael Schlenker, and Jan Wade for providing me with this opportunity. I also want to give an extra special thank you to Mackenzie Rickert, who oversaw and planned my time at the BAC, for making my experience so incredible!