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Life on Hill Q&A with pediatric occupational therapist

Kimberly Zellner, a registered and licensed occupational therapist who specializes in pediatrics, answers this week's questions about autism:

Q:  What is your name and current job title?

A: Kimberly Zellner; OTR/L Pediatric Occupational Therapist

Q:  What’s is a typical day for an occupational therapist?

A: Occupational therapists are able to work in a wide variety of health-care settings. I chose pediatrics due to my love of working with children. I currently work in an outpatient clinic, Chatterbox Pediatric Therapy, that serves children from 0-21 years of age. We provide one-on-one therapy with a child who could have a wide variety of diagnoses which range from developmental delays and autism to traumatic injuries from an accident. I am responsible for providing an initial evaluation when the child is referred for occupational therapy. I use a variety of standardized and non-standardized evaluations as well observations and parental interviews. I then devise a plan of care for the child which is determined by their needs and performance on the evaluations, as well as recommendations for additional medical care. I work individually with each child to develop functional skills that allow them to participate in their environments. These skills may include, but are not limited to, improving sensory processing, improving fine motor skills, visual motor skills, perceptual skills, the ability to dress themselves, feed themselves and/or address their self-restricted diet. I work closely with each of the families to train them to help their children by carrying over therapeutic techniques in the home and other community settings, which includes school.

Q: What are the greatest challenges of being an occupational therapist?

A: The greatest challenges are that every child is different ,and their needs are unique. You must always think quickly and learn to adapt to their constantly changing needs.

Q: What are the greatest blessings?

A: The greatest blessings have been the opportunity to meet such wonderful children and their families. I have been embraced so lovingly by so many families and entrusted with one of their most precious gifts, their child. I have been so inspired by their ability to face adversity head-on and manage the unexpected challenges of raising a child with a disability.

Q: When did you first come into contact with Erica Aklan?

A: I first met Erica Aklan and her husband, John, when they brought their sons Ryan and Trevor to our clinic for an occupational-therapy evaluation approximately three years ago. They had recently moved to our area from Germany, and they were looking to find therapy services for their boys. The boys had been diagnosed with autism while living in Germany, and they had started therapy services there. Erica was very proactive in managing their care and quickly sought help from us to fulfill her team of professionals to meet their unique needs.

Q: What relationship have you developed with her over this timeframe?

A: Erica has always impressed me with her openly warm personality and sweet demeanor. She has educated herself on the needs of children with autism, especially her own sons, but is so willing to share her knowledge base with others. Erica and I continue to interact on a weekly basis when she brings her boys to therapy, but she is always available to call or text for any questions or to talk to any of the families that I work with that need guidance, encouragement and overall emotional support.

Q: Why is advocacy so important for children with autism?  

A: Autism is not a new diagnosis; however, it is not completely understood by the general population. Advocacy for these children and their families is extremely important in order for others to understand this diagnosis and to support the services that are so needed for these children to help them learn to be functional in their environments.

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