Today we’re joined by Natalie Bledstein, OTR/L, CST-D, an occupational therapist and owner of Journeys OT in Wales, Wisconsin. Natalie is a Wisconsin native, and graduate of UW-Madison, with degrees in Art (1988) and Occupational Therapy (1995). Over the course of her career, Natalie has consistently been drawn to private practice, as she has found the ability to best meet client and family needs in this environment. Passionate about lifelong learning, Natalie is USC-WPS certified in the Sensory Integration & Praxis Tests and has achieved both Techniques and Diplomate certifications in CranioSacral therapy. Always curious to learn new information to support client goals, Natalie has studied modulated music systems (Therapeutic Listening, Integrated Listening Systems, and the Safe and Sound Protocol), reflex integration through the Musgatova Institute and Rhythmic Movement International, fine motor and handwriting skill development through Handwriting Without Tears and First Strokes, vestibular processing (Astronaut Training and other courses), and multiple courses in vision (ocular-motor skills and visual-perceptual skills) as relates to the populations she serves. Most recently she has been studying breath and airway information related to tongue-tie, pre and post frenectomy care, and using craniosacral techniques to support gut function. She is honored to play a role in her clients’ lives, celebrating progress and being present with them a short distance on their journey.
SpeechWorks: What does an occupational therapist do?
Natalie Bledstein: Occupational Therapists use daily life activities, or occupations, to support and increase participation, performance, and function of individuals in-home or community settings, including work or school. Occupational Therapy is holistic, addressing mind, body, and spirit by including a wide variety of factors in treatment planning. Intervention may therefore look very different based on the practitioners’ interests and skillset and the individual strengths and interests of the client. Treatment may include making environmental or physical accommodations, and strengthening or broadening client skills with the goal of improving physical and mental health, overall wellbeing and quality of life. Occupational Therapists work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, clinics, long-term care facilities, and home settings.
SW: What kind of training does an occupational therapist have?
NB: Since 2007, an entry-level Occupational Therapist has a Master’s degree that includes multiple clinical internship experiences. I received my Bachelor’s of Science in OT from UW-Madison in December 1994 as a returning adult student, passing the national boards in early 1995. As part of that degree, I completed internships in-home health care with adults in rehab, in a cutting-edge clinic providing pediatric sensory-integration based intervention, in a mental health facility with incarcerated men, in a hospital rehab department, and with rehab engineers in a specialty seated positioning branch of a durable medical equipment business. I relate all of this to demonstrate a bit of the variety that is available to Occupational Therapy practitioners to follow their interests and a few of the areas that people can seek the services of an OT to help them reach their goals.
SW: When and why did you start Journeys OT?
NB: I started Journeys OT in late 2013 in a small way, and we have been at our current Wales location since early 2015. Being in independent private practice allows me the most flexibility in meeting client needs. We are able to provide specialty clinic-based services, wellness services, occasional home or community site visits, and collaborate with school staff or medical care teams. The services provided at Journeys OT & Wellness are considered advanced practice areas for Occupational Therapists, requiring post-graduate continuing education training for competency. Like Occupational Therapists everywhere, we collaborate with other members of an individual’s wellness or treatment team: doctors, speech or physical therapists, counselors, ICBLCs, chiropractors, optometrists, dentists, etc.
SW: What are some symptoms or behaviors that might prompt a parent to seek an OT screening for a preschool or school-age child?
NB: There are multiple reasons you might seek an OT consult for your child. In general, if there is any challenge with the child successfully developing independence in daily life activities, mastering functional everyday social, learning, or motor skills, you may call for a free 15-minute consult. You might notice difficulty with emotional or behavioral regulation (frequent melt-downs or tantrums, or excessive aggressive behaviors), clumsiness or lack of coordination, rigid or inflexible behaviors, or difficulty adjusting to routine changes. You may notice challenges mastering fine motor skills like functional pencil grip, manipulating fasteners and utensils, using scissors, or using eyes and hands together for ball skills. Children may benefit from intervention if they are over or under reactive to sensory input, often observed as reactivity to sounds, touch, tastes, or movement. They may seem to fall down on purpose at times or be at either extreme of avoiding or overly seeking playground activities. They might seem fearful of movement, prone to motion sickness, or on the go nonstop. If your child has a diagnosis of Anxiety, ADHD, Autism Spectrum, Learning Disabilities, any other neurodiversity, or has experienced trauma, they would very likely benefit from support by an Occupational Therapist. That said, many of the children we work with do not have any diagnosis and may not qualify for other services as they are bright but working harder than their peers to maintain regulation and show what they know. Often they may feel defeated and express sentiments of low self-esteem or like they ‘can’t do anything right’. Increased self-confidence and a sense of success, leading to increased motivation to try, is often one of the first changes we observe after beginning intervention.
SW: What’s a rewarding part about what you do as an occupational therapist?
NB: One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is facilitating a clients’ ability to really come into their own when layers of self-consciousness, shame, insecurity, and anxiety dissipate and there is an expansion of confidence, ownership, delight, and peace as they successfully navigate something that they weren’t sure they could do before. It may be an infant now able to more easily latch and nurse successfully, or a school-age child building and completing their own challenging obstacle course or getting their thoughts into words or on paper, or an adult experiencing decreased pain or stress, or an opportunity to process grief, anger, or other strong emotions in a supportive accepting environment, and achieving greater peace. This work allows me to experience joy in the beauty of our humanity each day.