Pediatric therapy services help children with developmental disorders |

Pediatric therapy services help children with developmental disorders

Amanda Toy

For most parents, having a child who catches frogs is not a cause for delight; but for others, seeing a son or daughter successfully capture a jumping reptile can move them to tears of joy.

“To see a child catch a frog for the first time is just amazing,” said Judy Dettwiler, an occupational therapist at Yampa Valley Medical Center. “Parents just stand there in tears.”

Sally Hertzog, a speech and language therapist, and Diana Sperry, a physical therapist, join Dettwiler as YVMC’s pediatric therapy services team. The three treat youngsters from birth to 21 years with developmental or sensory integration disorders, including problems with motor or communication skills.

Although autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome are some of the most common and recognizable disorders, smaller problems that are more difficult to identify often are common among children.

“It’s not necessarily a problem from birth that the doctor can put his finger on,” Hertzog said. “Don’t think it’s always a severe case.

Once a child has been referred to YVMC for therapy, all three therapists, parents and other care providers are involved in the treatment.

“We communicate as a team,” Dettwiler said.

Each therapist assesses the child to find “where the areas of concern are,” Hertzog said. Parents and other caregivers also are included in the initial consultation.

“We always ask the families and then the child, ‘what are your goals?'” Sperry said.

“We talk with the family about what’s working in the school and the home and what’s not,” Dettwiler said.

After the assessment, a treatment plan is tailored to a child’s individual needs. Because at-home practice of the skills learned in therapy is a “huge” part of successful treatment, Dettwiler said, “we try to make it so that it fits into their daily life.”

“It’s all need-oriented,” Hertzog said.

In almost all cases, all three therapists work with a child. Sperry handles gross motor skills, such as jumping, running and catching, and Dettwiler works with a child on fine motor skills such as writing. Hertzog’s job is to “help children be better communicators.”

“I help with the understanding and use of language, articulation, voice and fluency,” she said.

In the summers, the Humble Ranch Education and Therapy Center becomes the site for the treatment of some clients. Youngsters ride horses and partake in other activities — such as catching frogs — for therapy.

Communication and motor skills are put into practice and, in most cases, improved while on the ranch.

Sperry uses horses to aid children in improving their gross motor skills. Simply riding a horse and playing games can help a child make huge leaps.

“The horse has all three planes of movement that humans do,” Sperry said. A rider’s pelvis is moved in a similar pattern to walking while riding a horse, she said.

For Hertzog, Humble Ranch is “a great environment for children to learn language and use it.”

“They have to follow directions and use their language to give directions,” she said.

As for the children, most love working at the ranch.

“You hardly ever see an unhappy kid out there,” Dettwiler said.

Dettwiler, Hertzog and Sperry have a combined 58 years of experience in pediatric therapy, and each loves what they do.

“I get such joy from the kids,” Sperry said. “They are so funny.”

The best part of her job, she said, is seeing parents’ tears of joy and hearing her clients gig


Hertzog said that she always has enjoyed working with people, and especially finds the results of her work fulfilling. What she loves most is “seeing a smile on a child’s face when he or she has accomplished a new challenge.”

Dettwiler loves seeing the reactions from parents and clients alike.

“It’s the look on a parent’s face when a child does something for a first time,” she said. “And the hugs.”

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