Business profile OT Ventures

A playful approach to problems

Jamie Levine offers pediatric occupational therapy in her basement

January 03, 2007|By Laura Shovan | Laura Shovan,special to the sun

Jamie Levine's basement looks more like a playground than a growing business. It has a floor-to-ceiling climbing wall. Bright gymnastic pads cover the floor. Four swings, including one with a trapeze bar, hang from the ceiling.

Ryan Sutton, 8, jumps from swing to trapeze under Levine's watchful eye. What looks like play is, for Ryan, therapy. Levine is an occupational therapist and the owner of OT Ventures, a home-based practice.

Levine's Ellicott City business opened two years ago. It is among a growing number of occupational therapy practices that specialize in sensory integration.

Sensory integration describes how the nervous system interprets taste, smell, and aural, visual and tactile information. The senses, Levine said, help "the body to learn, move and behave appropriately." Those with trouble regulating that information are sometimes diagnosed with sensory processing disorder.

A kid with SPD is typically "the child who has the shirt tag that's irritating them or the child who does have a limited diet or the child who's bouncing out of their seat because they're seeking movement," Levine explained.

Occupational therapy can "help the body integrate the senses," she said. "All the different [therapeutic] activities are basically giving sensory input."

Levine's clients are elementary and preschool age. "Sometimes it's that the child is moving around a lot, won't sit still in class. Sometimes it's a handwriting problem," she said.

Handwriting trouble brought Ryan to OT Ventures in May. His mother, Lynne D'Autrechy of Ellicott City, said, "It was a source of frustration for him. It seemed to almost hold him back from doing his homework."

Ryan also participates in one of OT Venture's group classes. Munch Bunch is for picky eaters ages 3 to 10.

Children in the group don't just eat food, they play with it - making snacks such as a bagel spaceship with a boiled egg in the middle. They play hot potato with fruit. Sometimes the fruit is placed "in a bowl at first because some kids don't even want to touch the food," said occupational therapist Donna Peters. She has been with OT Ventures for one year.

As demand for SPD services increases, Levine has added Peters and a speech language pathologist to her practice.

Peters said she enjoys leading groups because of the growth she sees in kids. "Some children come in and would not even sit by a banana and then by the end of the group they'll put it in their mouth, tasting it," she said.

Ida Zelaya hosts SPD Baltimore, a support group for parents. She said that pediatric occupational therapists are "not only offering services like swinging on platforms - all the gross motor from the head down to the toes - they're offering groups like Jamie has."

Zelaya said that education about SPD is slowly making its way to pediatricians. "What's out there is a pretty large network of pediatric [occupational therapists] who do get training in sensory issues," she said.

OT Ventures charges $85 for a 50-minute private session. Eight-week group classes range from $65 and $100 per meeting. Levine does not accept insurance directly, but helps families seeking reimbursement.

The group classes are popular with Levine's clients. "It makes [children] feel like they're not alone with these issues," Levine said. "They see other kids trying things," and are more willing to try it themselves.

In addition to Munch Bunch, OT Ventures offers handwriting, social-skills and sensory classes. In the handwriting group, children practice "writing with Play-Doh or with sand," said Peters. "Research has shown that it's more beneficial and children remember the letter formation better" when they use several senses.

After Ryan wriggles along the floor like a snake, he and Levine spend the last 15 minutes of his session on handwriting. Ryan's workbook is clipped to a wedge to help his hand position and posture.

Levine said, "Doing the big motor activities first helps them get organized" and ready to focus on seatwork. "A lot of [children] could not sit and do the activity without doing the gross motor activity first," she said.

D'Autrechy added, "To him, it's like play. He doesn't realize that he's really working on anything. He can't wait to go."

OT Ventures can be reached at www.ot-ventures.com or by calling 443-812-6396. Information about SPD may be found at www.kidfoundation.org.

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