Early intervention plays a vital role for pediatric physical therapist Jennifer Garner.
“The sooner we can begin to work with these kids, the earlier we can establish, or in some cases re-establish neural pathways, helping them to achieve developmental milestones and be as functional and independent as possible,” Garner says.
As a physical therapist and clinical manager of Dynamic Strides Therapy Inc., Garner works with children and their families to overcome sensory deficits.
“People always say it takes a special person to work with kids, but I couldn’t imagine my life any other way,” she says. “The kids and I work hard every day, but most days we have so much fun it doesn’t seem like work.”
She was one of three therapists who helped develop DST earlier this year with founder Brandi O’Reilly. DST is a nonprofit organization designed to increase accessibility to pediatric therapy services in southwest Missouri. It offers therapy in unique places like an indoor horse arena and planned sensory gym and provides insurance cap assistance.
“We strive not to implement those caps and are a nonprofit by design so that we can fundraise to help offset those deficits,” Garner says.
The DST facility is located on a working cattle farm.
“Therapists can utilize the outdoors environment to address functional skills and sensory deficits in a unique, fun and engaging way,” Garner says.
One treatment involves the uses of horses as a means to increase patient engagement. Hippotherapy is the use of horseback riding as a form of therapy or rehabilitation. DST has 10 therapy ponies on-site for hippotherapy in its indoor arena for year-round treatment.
“Whereas weather typically defines whether we can provide the service or not, we are no longer under those constraints,” Garner says.
Up next, DST organizers are planning a sensory gym with equipment to help children with sensory processing issues.
“Once completed, the sensory gym will also serve the surrounding communities, as it will be open to the public by appointment for use by children with and without sensory deficits to engage in sensory-safe play,” Garner says.
She also helped create the Opening More Doors program in February. It is an ongoing community service project to increase accessibility to pediatric therapy services in southwest Missouri, she says.
Opening More Doors focuses on fundraising, pro-bono services and developing a resource program for families.
Her proudest moment was when she was selected to be part of the original DST team by founder and board president O’Reilly.
“Years ago, I would have never dreamed of being fortunate enough to help develop a business from the ground up,” she says of the company that employs eight.
Previously, she worked for Ozarks Community Hospital’s Advantage Therapy department for seven years.
The ability to see a child reach a milestone, she says, is one of the most rewarding parts of her profession.
“I wish everyone could experience my job for a day,” Garner says. “To see these children’s smiles, not the ‘forced to take a picture smiles,’ but the genuine, happy smiles of a person who is having fun.”
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