Mobilizing Occupational Therapy
If you cant come to Diana Henry, MS, OTR/L, shell
come to you.
That diesel truck you may have spotted on the highway toting a giant, brightly
decorated recreation vehicle isnt a family of five on a cross-country vacation.
Its Henry and her husband, Rick Ruess, in their fifth-wheel home offering
ATEACHABOUT, the "over the road" program that brings sensory integration
information to students, teachers, administrators, parents, and therapists.
Henrys unique and mobile approach to practice was launched in January
2000 after 25 years in a traditional practice setting in Phoenix, Arizona. She
traveled often to conduct workshops all over the country but was limited in the
time she could spend with participants.
"I would be scheduled [to visit] for 2 days and then due to leave,"
she said. "Now I can offer the school districts the options of having us
stay for longer periods of time." At an upcoming workshop in New York, Henry
will arrive a day early and spend the day observing teachers and students. She
will have a better perspective of the problems the school encounters and how teachers
deal with them, thereby allowing her to respond directly to what she observed
and customize the workshop to the participants needs.
"This isnt just for the special ed. child, but all children,"
she said. "Thats the biggest part of this whole processthe teachers
and administrators who participate. [The workshop] can enhance the school principals
ability to work with staff by having them understand the sensory needs that all
More than 20 years ago the Education for All Handicapped Children Act1 brought
occupational therapy into the schools, but therapists were limited to treating
only children identified with special needs. "I was becoming frustrated because
I was seeing kids who had needs that could be helped through prevention,"
Henry said. So rather than work in the schools, she opened Henry OT Services,
Inc., a clinic specializing in sensory integrative treatment, and practiced in
a traditional medical model. "But little by little parents would say, Our
child does not qualify for OT in the school, but the teacher knows somethings
wrong." Those responses shifted Henrys focus to a new school-based
practice. That shift spread through school systems in Arizona, and Henry found
educators who longed to understand and be trained to help their students.
Christine Whitford, OTR/L, a school therapist who works with pre-kindergartners
in the Syracuse, New York, school district, attended a recent ATEACHABOUT workshop
to get more insight into sensory integration. "[Henry] explains it in a manner
anyone can understand; she helps you feel what these kids are going through,"
To help participants understand why a student may rock in his or her chair,
Henry used ball chairs for dynamic sitting and passed out small balls, key chains,
and stuffed animals for participants to hold and finger during the presentation.
"People were much more comfortableI felt as though I was listening
much better," Whitford said. Similarly, the student who rocks may actually
be trying to listen because rocking helps with concentration.
Henry gave participants another powerful demonstration when she abruptly asked
the group to find another seat halfway through the seminar, irritating some of
the participants who did not want to leave their "space." Those uncomfortable
in their new seats had a more difficult time listening, similar to a child with
sensory integration dysfunction who is frequently asked to change seats. "You
dont really think about those things until someone puts you in that position,"
Offering workshops in the schools allows for more participants, which helps
to educate the general public about sensory integration, Henry said. "Our
mission is to spread the word about sensory integration so that the public can
understand and use the principles behind it." The program includes general
knowledge about sensory integration and evolving definitions of the terminology.
Henry then demonstrates easy activities that teachers and parents can do in the
classroom and at home to help students concentrate better. The activities cover
all areas of sensory integration, such as "sensory safe" environments,
positioning tools, movement tools, hand games to develop handwriting muscles,
and calming and quieting tools.
Since Henry and her husband took to the road in January, their schedule has
filled up quickly, and the ATEACHABOUT program already has reached hundreds in
all sections of the country.
Traveling in the fifth-wheel home not only allows Henry the flexibility of
arriving early and leaving late, but also gives her and her husbandwho quit
his job to travel with her time to visit and tour the country. It was actually
Ruess who had the idea to create ATEACHABOUT when sitting with Henry on top of
North Mountain in Arizona. Henry had just returned from a workshop in Woodstock,
Illinois, complaining about planes and telling him that "its so sad
because it was beautiful there and I couldnt share it with you." Ruess
replied, "I have an idea," and 2 years later the couple sold their house
and furniture, bought the fifth wheel and a diesel truck to pull it, and hit the
Although Ruess is not an occupational therapist, he always has been fascinated
by childrens behaviors. He was convinced of the necessity of the services
Henry provides after the couple repeatedly met several parents of former clients
whom Henry had worked with as children years ago. "They said they were going
to college and theyre so successful now," Henry said. "He saw
how it really works."
1. Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. Pub. L. 94142,
20 U.S.C. § 1400 et seq.
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Henry OT Services, Inc
4000 Pipit Place, Flagstaff, AZ 86004