In honor of Occupational Therapy Month in April this year, we asked therapists to nominate a colleague who does outstanding work. We heard about some truly remarkable occupational therapists, including Sarah Baloch, who works in PS 15 in Brooklyn.
For how many years have you been practicing school-based occupational therapy?
I have been practicing for almost 12 years.
What type of students do you work with?
I work with elementary school-aged children, many of whom have a diagnosis of Intellectual Disability and/or Down's Syndrome.
How would you describe your approach to occupational therapy?
I would describe my approach to OT as play and project-based, as much as possible.
What has been the most innovative approach that you've used in your sessions?
My most innovative approach has been my use of, as I call it, "fine-motor circuit training". It gives children a break from doing a single task, and also gives them frequent gross motor breaks to re-energize and re-focus.
You work with your students in a sensory gym. Can you tell us about what it is and how it was developed?
Our sensory gym was created by a private non-profit organization call Extreme Kids and Crew. This organization was founded by the mother of a child with severe Cerebral Palsy. Her goal was to have a play space for children with special needs, their families and their friends. It is not an organization that provides therapy; rather, it is an organization that supports community. They use the space after school and on the weekends. We use their space (housed in our school) during school hours. It is a beautiful sensory gym and our school is very lucky to have access to it.
How has occupational therapy changed over the years?
I feel that, since I started practicing in 2007, there has been a significant rise in Autism and ADD/ADHD diagnoses among children. As a result, there is more public awareness about the challenges these populations face, particularly sensory integration and processing. Many parents want their children to have access to sensory gyms now, as a way to enrich, strengthen and integrate their development (if not for therapy, specifically). Parents are more aware of sensory sensitivities these days than they were when I started practicing.
What's the most rewarding part of your job?
My favorite part of practicing is watching a child improve upon or successfully master a skill, especially when the child him/herself wanted to get better. Seeing that pride of accomplishment spread across a young face, watching a child become more confident in her day-to-day life, is a wonder and an honor to witness.
How has your union supported you in your years working as an occupational therapist for the DOE?
I am indebted to my union for protecting me and the rest of the related service providers and special educators after the cumbersome and disorganized launch of the online special education documentation system (SESIS). We all worked hard, with little formal training, to become fluent in the system. I was grateful that we were compensated for our time and effort.
[Editor’s note: After a decade of complaints and payments of more than $73 million to UFT members to compensate them for work outside school hours, the DOE is pulling the plug on SESIS, which was launched in 2011. Read the story on the end of SESIS.]