"Play is the work of childhood," said Caroline Bowman as she and business partner and fellow speech-language pathologist Lea Lanier showed off the new therapy gym at their multidisciplinary therapy center, the Therapy SPOT.
The room pops with bright colors and inviting ways for children to be challenged and rewarded with play. So does the outdoor therapy area designed free-of-charge by a pair of Georgia Southern University graphic designers.
An open house Nov. 19 from 4 p.m. - 6 p.m. will give the public a chance to see these and other features of the Therapy SPOT's recently completed new home at 508 Gentilly Rd.
Since Bowman and another speech therapist founded the practice in 2007, the Therapy SPOT has expanded to include nine therapists in speech, physical and occupational therapy, hence the acronym S.P.O.T. Largely by word of mouth among parents and referrals from physicians, the SPOT has also outgrown two previous buildings.
Grasping the zip line bar as if she might glide across the room from the two-story playhouse toward the climbing wall, Bowman attributed the "play is the work" quote to the late Fred Rogers of "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood." She was explaining that therapists use all of this fun equipment - the ball pit, the little trampoline, the various swings - to do the serious work of helping children improve their skills and reach development goals.
"We use all of these play activities as the basis for getting a children interested, and then we imbed the things were are working on in those play activities, because they're not going to cooperate if they're not engaged in an activity they want to do," Bowman said.
As speech therapists, she or Lanier might say to a child at the top of the slide, "Ready, set ..." and wait for the child to say "go" before getting to slide down. An occupational therapist could have a child work on her balance by standing on the memory foam mattress on the ball pit, where it's safe to fall down.
A set of steps leads up to a magnet board, and getting to place a magnetic shape on the board can be the reward for walking up once, Lanier said. Then the child would need to walk back down the steps to pick up another magnet.
Occupational therapy may not prepare children for a job but, among other things, helps develop fine motor skills needed for daily activities, such as buttoning a shirt, tying shoes, or using a crayon.
Outdoor therapy area
A contractor installed the gym, which is twice the size of the room with little more than a trampoline and swings that was in the Therapy SPOT's most recent former home, next door in the Gentilly Office Complex. But Bowman and Lanier say they had no budget for an outdoor therapy area, created by fencing the portion of the rear parking lot nearest the building.
So they called Georgia Southern in search of artists, either students or professors who would volunteer. Stephanie Neal and Lindsay Tyson, graphic artists employed by the university but also working on their Master of Fine Arts degrees, made the project part of their thesis on "Collaborating for the Greater Good."
In one of four projects Neal and Tyson are including, they heard the Therapy SPOT owners' request a figure-eight racetrack and a hopscotch course.
But the graphic designers painted a more complex racetrack with a hairpin turn, to add more variety for children making the rounds on adaptive tricycles and foot-powered cars. Inside the wooden fence they created a music corner, with pans and buckets and colorful pipes for percussion. They had a big chalkboard, from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore, placed along the fence and created a rock garden in another corner. Oil drip pans became magnet boards.
"What they did was take it from where just our P.T. (physical therapy) could use it for motor skills and made it where everyone can use it, to work on speech and occupational therapy, those fine motor skills and language skills," Lanier said. "They made it more versatile resource for all disciplines."
Besides these unique areas, the Therapy SPOT's new building includes six therapy rooms. Some have see-through mirrors where parents can watch their children demonstrate progress in ways they might not if they knew their parents were watching.
Speech therapy is also the one area where the Therapy SPOT has some therapists who work with adults. Its physical therapy and occupational therapy services are for children exclusively.
The Therapy SPOT is a for-profit business, just as are most medical practices. The therapists are not medical doctors, but a referral from a physician is required to obtain their services. Sometimes parents call with a concern about their child, and the therapists can talk to the child's physician or suggest the parents see the physician for a referral, Bowman said.
Besides children with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder and Down's syndrome, physicians can refer people with challenges such as stuttering, difficulty making the sound of certain letters, or even having a diet limited to very few foods.
Many medical insurance policies cover speech, physical and occupational therapy.
"There are a few that unfortunately do not, and so we do have a few families that do pay out of pocket, but we also have some resources that we can share with those families about grants and other alternative ways to help pay for those services if they can't afford to pay," Bowman said.
The Therapy SPOT also offers aquatic therapy, but don't look for a pool. The therapists use pools at Splash in the Boro. Aquatic therapy is used only as an alternative when land-based therapy is not achieving sufficient progress, Bowman said.