The Value of Occupational Therapy for Kids With Special Needs

Children with autism, Down syndrome, and other special needs often benefit from occupational therapy (OT), to support many areas of their development. Occupational therapy is typically characterized as exclusively addressing fine motor strength and coordination. However, there are many other areas of a child’s development that occupational therapy can positively impact. Skills OT’s work on include balance, core strength, body awareness, sensory regulation, executive functioning, attention, and greater independence with participation in school and self-care.  

The benefits of occupational therapy for children with special needs are numerous. Occupational Therapists are skilled in using a variety of strategies to address motor development, self-regulation and sensory needs. Additionally, they work on social participation, adaptive skills, and daily life skills. This means activities like brushing teeth, toileting, opening containers, writing, and getting dressed. OTs also incorporate sensory integration techniques to help children who struggle with sensitivity to touch and clothing textures, light and sound sensitivity, as well as balance and body positioning in space.  

Occupational therapy for children with special needs is built upon a foundational belief that children learn best through engaging in their natural “occupation” of play. Their goal is that the “work” should be FUN! They use a variety of play-based materials such as yoga balls, animal walks, scooter boards, swings, obstacle courses, and resistive tunnels to address gross motor skills. They also incorporate board games, crafts, and other manipulatives to teach fine motor coordination through play. It’s obvious our OTs enjoy building a variety of skills through fun and engaging child-centered activities. A constant cycle of assessment and treatment through engagement in such activities allows children to keep advancing their skills in a developmentally natural progression.   

Occupational Therapy at Healing Haven

As our ABA Therapy services grew, we added additional therapies to support our clients’ development. Doing so also provides one service location for parents.  We first added Speech Therapy and then in 2018, we added Occupational Therapy services. This provides collaboration opportunities among the professionals supporting a child. In fact, all our OTs receive ABA training and know how to work collaboratively with our BCBAs and RBTs.  

From the Beginning

Our first OT on staff has a long history working with our Founder Jamie McGillivary. Long before she ever ever considered studying to become an Occupational Therapist, Julie worked with Jamie at Beaumont’s HOPE Center. She was the Motor Room Expert in the Parent Training Program. She later went on to manage the summer programs in the early days of Healing Haven.

From Behavior Therapist to Occupational Therapist

Julie first met Jamie through a family she worked with more than 20 years ago doing in-home therapy and respite care. This family motivated her to work with individuals with autism and their families full-time. As a result of that experience, Julie studied to become a BCaBA – Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst. After several years working in ABA Therapy, she decided to pursue education to become an Occupational Therapist.

Julie

As Healing Haven grew and Julie studied to become an OT, she knew from her previous experience of working with Jamie, that she wanted to return to work here. She rejoined Healing Haven in January 2018 after receiving her Master’s in Occupational Therapy from Eastern Michigan. Her years of experience in ABA combined with her education and training as an Occupational Therapist are a powerful combination.

Julie describes her current role as her “dream job”. The primary reason she was drawn back to Healing Haven is that “the kids are so much fun!” She likes the saying ‘when you meet one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism’. The reason is she has witnessed it lived out. Each child is unique, and Julie loves the challenge of discovering what motivates them. Julie also appreciates how the staff acknowledge each other for hard work. “I could not ask for better people to surround me each day.” 

Expanding Our OT Services

As our ABA Therapy clinic grew into two clinics, and then to three clinics, serving kids from 2-16 years old, we recognized the need to also grow our Occupational Therapy services. Over the past five years we have added several more highly qualified and passionate Occupational Therapists and Occupational Therapy Assistants to our team. Their breadth of experience are a tremendous asset to our clients. Many of them have years of experience working with children with special needs. 

Maddie

Occupational Therapist at Healing Haven

Maddie Gildner, MSOT, OTR/L joined our OT team in  early 2023. She graduated with her Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Western Michigan University in December of 2022.   

Maddie has always enjoyed working with the pediatric population, and she’s passionate about providing fun, effective, and client-centered care. Maddie “looks forward to partnering with and supporting children and their families to help them be as independent as possible in their daily lives.”  

Jacey

COTA at Healing Haven

Jacey Lacanilao, COTA/L, is a licensed occupational therapy assistant who joined our team in November of 2021. She graduated from Macomb Community College with an Associates of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy degree in March of 2021. Healing Haven is her first place of employment in her COTA career. 

Jacey has always had a passion for working with children with special needs. She emphasizes that no two kids are the same, and that each comes with their own fun personality. “Being a part of the journey that helps our kids grow into independent individuals is one of the best feelings,” Jacey says.  

In her free time, Jacey loves to play volleyball, spend time with family, hang out with friends, eat, and travel.  

Anna

Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Healing Haven

Anna Weir, COTA/L joined the Healing Haven team in February of 2022. She graduated from Northwood University with a Bachelor of Business Management and an MBA in Project Management. However, after accruing experience working with children and raising her own family, she discovered her passion for the field of occupational therapy. She obtained her Occupational Therapy Assistant degree from Macomb Community College. 

Fueled by the joy and determination of the children she works with, Anna thrives in the pediatric realm due to its variety and because it “allows me to use my creativity to motivate, teach, and promote daily life skills.” 

In her free time, Anna enjoys horse riding, hiking, kayaking, swimming, playing tennis with her daughters, acrylic painting, piano, pilates, yoga and walking her family’s dog, Chloe.  

Kaitlyn

Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant at Healing Haven

Kaitlyn Wynne, COTA/L, is a licensed occupational therapy assistant who joined our team in February of 2022. She graduated from Macomb Community College’s Occupational Therapy Assistant program in 2021, having earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Wayne State University prior.  

Kaitlyn is passionate about what she does, saying she loves “to create a challenging and nurturing environment for kids to inspire confidence and build the skills needed to meet their goals.”  

When Kaitlyn is not at work, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking, watching movies, and being outdoors.  

Gabrielle

COTA/L

Gabrielle Brod, COTA/L, is a certified occupational therapy assistant. After graduating from Macomb Community College in 2021, Gabrielle joined our team in July of 2022.  

Gabrielle’s experience consists of working with a variety of clients aged 2 to 80 years old in settings such as pediatric summer camps, outpatient mental health facilities, and acute care facilities.  

In her free time, Gabrielle likes to hang out with her family and “go on different adventures with them.”  

Jenna

COTA/L at Healing Haven

Jenna Thill, COTA/L, is a certified occupational therapy assistant. She graduated from the Macomb Community College OTA program in 2009 and joined our team in January of 2023. 

Jenna has experience working in a range of different settings as well as with a wide range of ages. She found her passion early on and has spent most of her career serving kids and families in the ASD community, as well as children with ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Down syndrome, Angelman’s Syndrome, and more.  

Jenna loves the creativity she can incorporate into her therapy sessions and enjoys being able to celebrate successes big and small. Additionally, she enjoys “working closely as a team to help kids and families achieve goals, reach their highest level of independence, and live full and happy lives.”  

When away from work, Jenna adores reading, watercolor painting, crocheting, and spending time outdoors with her family.  

Getting Started With OT

Healing Haven offers occupational therapy for kids with special needs within our clinics and via telehealth. In clinic provides one service location for parents seeking behavioral, speech and occupational therapy for their child. Additionally, OT services are open to individuals not participating in our behavior-based therapy programs. If your child needs occupational therapy, reach out to us! Fill out our Contact Us form, or give us a call at 248-965-3916.

Applying and Interviewing at Healing Haven: What to Expect

applying and interviewing at Healing Haven

Applying and interviewing for jobs often involves a lot of unknown and nerves. As we continue to hire to meet the demand for our therapy services, read some helpful info on our hiring process.

Applying at Healing Haven

Applying at Healing Haven is incredibly easy. Simply fill out the form on our Careers page and a recruiter will contact you!

For the Behavior Technician position at Healing Haven, we look for candidates who meet the following qualifications:

  • Experience with children or teens—not required, only preferred. Maybe you’re a parent, or grew up with siblings and cousins. That counts as experience with kids! It’s a bonus if you’ve worked with kids with special needs as well. But again, not required.
  • Friendly, positive attitude
  • Strong communication and listening skills
  • Flexibility with change
  • Reliable / Dependable
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced environment
  • Patience
  • A passion to work with children

Everything else can be taught!

There is not a single moment in these buildings where I do not feel like I am supported, and there is always a team member providing help.” -Aaron, Behavior Technician

Interviewing at Healing Haven

Interviewing at Healing Haven starts with a phone call with one of our Recruiters. This initial interview serves as a two-way meeting to learn as much as we can about you. Additionally, you’ll learn about our company culture and day-to-day operations.

During the interview, we review the history of our company and provide an overview of the programs offered. The goal of this is to give you a well-rounded understanding of the Behavior Technician’s role and how each department contributes to the client’s progress. Our recruiters review both the highlights and challenges of the position to help you understand what the role is like. This process helps identify if someone will truly be a good fit for the position.

If both parties show interest in moving forward, we schedule an in-person tour of the facility within days of the initial meeting. During the tour, you’ll see how a typical day runs during our hours of operation and observes the one-on-one interactions between the clients and Behavior Technicians. Our Recruiters are looking for interactions initiated, observations made, and questions asked by you during this meeting. You’ll also observe a few ABA sessions, as well as Speech or Occupational therapy sessions.

Finally, prior to a position offer, you need to provide two professional references and must complete a background check.

child and Healing Haven ABA Therapist

I admire the clinic’s emphasis on a more naturalist approach to teaching ABA, and I believe that we try our best to create a fun, engaging and safe environment for our children. – Halee, Behavior Technician

Our Advice for Interviewing

For the Interview:

  • Plan enough time to allow for traffic and finding the correct building for your interview so you arrive on time.
  • Turn off your phone to eliminate possible distractions during the interview.
  • Conduct yourself in a friendly and professional manner
  • Prepare by reading over the company website to understand the organization and the position for which you are applying
  • Show your interest by preparing clarifying questions
  • Be honest and clear about your expectations! Our recruiters want to make sure this is a good fit on both sides. If you are uncomfortable with one or more of the requirements discussed, it’s important to identify them early on to be sure this is the best fit for you!

For the In-person Tour:

  • Ask questions or make observations that show your interest
  • Take the time to say hello to staff and clients when possible
  • Show interest in the observed client’s activities – If a client asks you to throw a ball or clap for them when they get something right, show you are willing to have fun and get involved!

“One of my favorite things about being an RBT is seeing the progress that the kids I work with make. This position is extremely rewarding, and I truly love seeing how much these children can grow. I also love seeing the intelligence from every one of them.” –Melissa, Registered Behavior Technician

Job Training at Healing Haven

Our hands-on, in-person training process for the Behavior Technician position lasts roughly 2-3 weeks, depending on how quickly the new employee picks up on the material learned. We mostly hire applicants without experience, so the training process is very gradual easing them in. During the first few days as a new hire, you will observe a session with an experienced RBT and a client. You’ll see how a typical day is run and acclimate to the new environment.

The next step is a process called “pairing” where you start positively connecting with a client, building rapport and instructional control. Once you and the client have begun building a relationship, you’ll start running goals with support from trainers until the trainer fades themselves out of the session completely.

child with ABA Therapist at Healing Haven

In addition to the hands-on training, new employees complete a 40-hour online RBT training to become certified as a Registered Behavior Technician®. Healing Haven helps certify all new employees as RBTs within their first few months of employment.

There is so much to learn in the field of ABA – there is no way to learn it all in two to three weeks! During their first 90 days, new staff receive ongoing training and heavy support from the training department. It is important that you feel both confident in the skills you teach and comfortable asking questions along the way.

“When you get to witness the kiddos reach new milestones and you know that you helped contribute to that, it is a feeling that you won’t find in your ordinary work place.” -Akerria, Behavior Technician

child painting with Healing Haven ABA Therapist

Looks like you’ve made it this far, so you’re probably intrigued in applying and interviewing at Healing Haven! If so, you can learn more about us and easily apply in just minutes. We’re looking forward to meeting you and hope you will be part of our team.  

Halloween and Autism: 6 Tips to Prepare Your Child

Halloween is usually a favorite holiday for kids – candy, costumes, parties at school – what’s not to love? But for a child with autism, Halloween holds the potential for anxiety and irritation – itchy costumes anyone? Everything is “out of the norm” and most kids with autism thrive on routine. Our team here at Healing Haven incorporates the holiday into our therapy to help our kids learn to enjoy Halloween. So we’ve compiled some tips for families navigating Halloween and autism, to help you and your child  have a wonderful, and not frightful, holiday!

Make the Unknown Known

Talk to your child about Halloween for a few weeks ahead of time so when the day comes it’s not a surprise. Show pictures of kids in costumes, download social stories about Halloween, play videos of children trick-or-treating, etc. If you create a social story and have pictures of your kid(s) from past years, that can help to remind them of what this holiday is about.

Practice Wearing Costumes

By having a “dress rehearsal” you can help your child adjust to the uniqueness of wearing a costume. Costumes can make you hot, be itchy, feel tight. If their costume has a mask, they may struggle with seeing and hearing, make them sweat and their head itch. Costume practice is an element we incorporate into our therapy. We ask parents to send in their child’s costume a week ahead of time so we can work with them to tolerate it. For children with severe sensory issues, maybe make something homemade out of their clothes. For example, a black cat using black leggings with a tail attached to the back, and a black long sleeve t-shirt is super easy. But in the end, it’s also OK if your child just refuses to wear a costume at all. Get them a Halloween t-shirt and call it good!

Do a Neighborhood Walk Through

You know the houses who have the large inflatable Frankenstein, or have skeletons hanging all over their porch. A walk through your neighborhood at night – or the area you plan to trick-or-treat, can be helpful to check out the decorations. Doing this helps you plan for any houses you might want to avoid if your child may find it scary. And if you’re walking in your neighborhood, ask your neighbors if they are planning to dress up and scare trick-or-treaters. You may want to avoid their house too!

Practice Trick-or-Treating

Teaching your child with autism about the rules of trick-or-treating is an important part of Halloween prep. By going through the steps of how trick-or-treating works, you will help them feel more comfortable and confident.  When you think about it, this is a strange tradition we have of knocking on someone’s door and getting candy. And some kids who are obsessed with rules, may find it difficult to accept this deviation in the rule of never taking candy from strangers. If they struggle with this, you may need to focus your Halloween adventures to just the houses you know.

Be specific when you practice the steps: knock on the door, say “trick-or-treat”, say “thank you”. Also, train them to not go inside the house, but go to the next house. And if your child uses an AAC device, make sure these phrases are loaded and they know where to find them. And if you want to reduce the number of things they have to carry, there is a great resource for AAC users through Teachers Pay Teachers. They are offering free, downloadable and printable AAC trick-or-treat communication bracelets!

Practicing trick-or-treating is another element we incorporate into our ABA therapy – providing a practice session of trick-or-treating before the real event. We host a family and staff trunk-or-treat so our clients have the opportunity to practice. It is a highlight every year for the families we serve and the staff!

Pair Up With a Friend

Trying to remember all the rules and customs of Halloween can be overwhelming. If your child has neurotypical friends or family members, make plans to trick-or-treat together. This provides them an example to follow. And it helps to have another set of eyes on your child with autism in the busyness, and darkness, of Halloween. Speaking of the dark, having a glow necklace or light up tennis shoes can help you identify your child more quickly.

What To Do With All That Candy?

Creating a plan for handling the trick-or-treat haul they bring home is wise. And if your child has allergies or a restricted diet, it’s absolutely necessary. You need to know how to manage the inevitable treats that will come home. If you haven’t already heard of the Teal Pumpkin Project, it’s a great way to support those with food allergies. The project focuses on providing alternate types of non-candy treats. Also, talking about the issues with Halloween candy and allergies can help prepare your child for some items not being safe for them. If your family participates in the Teal Pumpkin project, you will have some safe non-food treats that you can swap out for the ones they can’t eat.

Even if your house has no allergies, it’s good to talk about what they can do with the candy after trick-or-treating is over. Can he eat 5 pieces or 2 pieces when he gets home? How many pieces of candy can she eat per day? Talk about these “rules” ahead of time.

Be Flexible

In the end, it’s important to remember that Halloween is supposed to be fun. So if your child is overwhelmed by all the elements of trick-or-treating, don’t force them to go. They could help pass out candy, or invite a few friends over who may feel the same way. Also look for alternate Halloween activities like the Detroit Zoo’s “Zoo Boo” and Hallowe’en at Greenfield Village.

We hope these tips are helpful and reduce some of the anxiety either you, or your child, may be feeling about Halloween!