The Herald Bulletin

May 27, 2013

All play and no work

Kids’ occupational therapy uses toys, games

By Baylee Pulliam
The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — “Can you find the ‘c,’ for cat and candy?”

Haleigh McCue sorts through a stack of little plastic letter tiles. She briefly thumbs the ‘c,’ then decides against it – ‘w’ is better.

The 6-year-old pins it to the table with her stronger, left hand, smiling triumphantly at occupational therapist Kimberly Biberstein.

“’W’ for walk,” Biberstein says, “Because that’s your goal.”

Haleigh has cerebral palsy, a non-progressive disorder stemming from damage to the brain’s motor control centers. Common problems include limited movement, communication ability, cognition and sight.

To help alleviate some of the worst symptoms, Haleigh receives occupational therapy at St. Vincent Anderson Regional Hospital’s Erskine Rehabilitation Center, where Biberstein and other specialists are now taking patients as young as three.

The term “occupational” is a bit of a misnomer, Biberstein said, “People think it’s just about a job or work. But it’s really any activity you engage in throughout the day.”

For children such as Haleigh, that could be playing, going to school, brushing their own teeth or socializing with peers.

Being content

The Erskine center currently sees about 10 child patients, whose cerebral palsy, ADHD, Autism, Down Syndrome or other conditions have limited their developmental, educational or emotional-behavioral abilities. Before, those patients would have to travel to neighboring counties, adding fuel expenses and lost work or school time.

During therapy, Haleigh works on things like strengthening her arms, sorting and developing muscle control — exactly like Biberstein’s adult patients, only she doesn’t know she’s doing it.

“We make it fun,” Biberstein said. “We play the whole time.”

Instead of the grown-ups’ beige exam rooms, the kids get walls painted purple and covered with marker boards, puzzles and pictures of animals.

Therapy is done using play swings, stretchy bungee cords, multi-colored plastic rings and other toys.

“There are a lot of games with tactile components,” Biberstein said, “Things they have to do with their hands,” which can help build up fine and gross motor skills, sensory perception, visual processing, handwriting, feeding and other abilities they’ll need to help take care of themselves.

Haleigh’s mother, Becky McCue, said, “Really, what we want is to get Haleigh as independent as possible — not just physically, but socially.”

She said they also do therapy at home, through play, eating and other everyday activities.

“It’s tough,” said McCue, whose own cerebral palsy gives her unique insight into her daughter’s struggle, “But little by little, we’re noticing progress.”

Awhile ago, Haleigh propped herself up on her side. She can eat finger foods and hold a cup or her Dora the Explorer doll.

They’re also working on her ability to socialize.

Haleigh can say a few words, such as ‘no,’ ‘yes’ and ‘thank you.’ But mostly, she communicates via sign language or text-to-voice software, which she uses over the phone to read story books with her grandma.

Therapy has “helped quite a bit,” her mom said. But the most important thing is that Haleigh’s happy.

“She’s pretty content with who she is,” McCue said. “That’s the best thing about her, I think.”

Like Baylee Pulliam on Facebook and follow her @BayleeNPulliam on Twitter, or call 648-4250.