Local business helps kids with sensory processing challenges
With his mom watching nearby, 11-year-old Eli Christensen came running across the room at Ohana Occupational Therapy, latched onto the handles of a trapeze, aimed his body through an inner tube suspended from the ceiling, let go of the bars and whooshed through the ring, crash landing on the pile of foam padding.
Kids with the condition often have a tough time coping in school or in other public places with behaviors that can be disruptive to others. The problem for these kids is not emotional, it’s neurological: The neural pathways from their senses are not well connected to their brains. Some, like Christensen, need a lot of stimulation to calm down. Others are easily overwhelmed by stimulation.
Mary Kostka, the owner of Ohana, and her husband have created occupational therapy offices in Leavenworth and Wenatchee specifically to help these kids and their families. The Wenatchee office is tucked away below Sew Creative across from Lewis and Clark Elementary.
Children at Ohana are making remarkable progress with improving attention and behavior. Children with sensory processing disorder, who do not have other developmental delays, typically graduate from the center after about 36 visits.
When I visited, the place was bustling with energy. Christensen was working on core body strength with occupational therapy assistant Sandi Hendrickson, and 11-year-old Marshall May decided he wanted to join in the fun, so the two boys took turns flying through the air with the assistance of therapists.
I was told that it was a bit of a breakthrough when May wanted to emulate Christensen, who typically works alone with Kostka. His mother, Kelly Pope, told me Marshall’s progress has been steady. He has been working with Kostka for about seven years and progress has been steady. For a child that at first couldn’t leave his home without throwing up, he has been able to travel with his family to California.
In a nearby room, 4-year-old Asher Kaczenski was working with Mindy Burns, a certified occupational therapy assistant, on fine motor skills as his mother, Stacy Parker, sat quietly nearby. Therapy is a family affair at Ohana with parents learning skills to help their children at home.
There are several things that make the approach at Ohana effective, I was told. First and foremost, the priority is to make the therapy fun for the kids. Hendrickson said they find out what kids are interested in and play to those strengths so that if a youngster is supposed to be working on balance and comes in wanting to be a pirate, he’ll likely find himself walking the plank.
They also use emphasize “just right” challenges – activities that are not so easy that a kid will be bored but not so difficult that they get frustrated. Building confidence while developing motor skills and coping approaches is crucial. The kids are encouraged to suggest ways to challenge themselves. Some even design their own obstacle courses.
The main room is filled with mats and an overhead system that therapists can use to create all kinds of obstacles. There’s a quiet room where a child who is overly stimulated can find peace and calm under lights that can be dimmed. It’s a highly flexible environment that can be adapted to meet the needs of kids in the moment.
The other similar occupational therapy outfit in the valley is Can Do Kids, run by Kostka’s friend Heather MacNeil. Families that cannot get into those offices have to travel out of the area, so it’s serving a critical need in the area.
“Kids love it here and don’t want to leave,” said Kostka. The parents I spoke with agreed wholeheartedly. Julee Christensen said her son Eli has nearly met all of his goals and will soon not need the services at Ohana. “We’ve seen a ton of improvement in his motor skills,” Christensen said. Before he started at Ohana, “everything was just difficult (for Eli),” she said.
Ohana is an inspiring place where local kids who are struggling are getting help and learning to thrive. It is a hidden gem in our community that is helping kids thrive who otherwise would be struggling. More than 100 kids a month are being helped at the center.
What a gift it was to get acquainted with the staff, kids and their parents.
Q. What is sensory processing disorder?
A. For some kids, the volume level of their senses is turned way up or down. It’s a neurologic condition that makes it difficult for them to handle too much light, noise or touch.
Q.What conditions are treated at the Ohana Centers in Wenatchee and Leavenworth?
A. Hyper-activity, ADHD, developmental delay, Autism, Cerebral Palsy, etc.
Q. What other areas does Ohana focus on, besides sensory issues?
A. Improving trunk stability. Some kids have difficulty sitting still because of weak abdominal and back muscles.
Q. Where can I get more information?
A. At the Ohana web site: www.ohanaot.com