Occupational Therapy: Providing the Foundation for Independence


Suzanne Eason, St. Mary's supervisor of occupational therapy support services, uses an iPad with Shanita.

Shanita uses an iPad with assistance from Suzanne Eason, St. Mary’s supervisor of occupational therapy support services. The OT department’s many functions include helping to maintain high-tech systems our residents use to communicate.

April is Occupational Therapy Month, so we thought this would be a good time to feature a guest blog post by Suzanne Eason, supervisor of St. Mary’s occupational therapy support services. She provides some insight into what OT is and what OT means to the children and young adults who live at St. Mary’s Home. 

By Suzanne Eason, supervisor of occupational therapy support services 

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities, or occupations.

Occupational Therapy Support Services at St. Mary’s Home is made up of six people who together have more than 150 years of experience working with exceptional individuals. We have a passion to ensure that every person we work with has the most comprehensive, individualized equipment needed to be successful in everyday activities.

We provide the foundation for our residents’ independence by enhancing their highest levels of occupation. We do this by evaluating, creating, fixing and cleaning most of the adaptive equipment each individual needs.

We create wheelchairs that provide mobility to someone who can’t walk and enhance postures for someone who can’t sit up without help. We create most of the splints that help feet, hands and torsos remain as flexible as possible so each individual can be dressed and bathed, go to school, play with toys and electronics and participate in the community. We adapt toys for use by individuals with disabilities by adding switches and mounting them on wheelchair trays for best access.

We also observe and teach staff the most effective way to help our residents feed themselves. We assist the school program at St. Mary’s in maintaining the high-tech communication systems that our residents use to talk with us. With more than 85 residents who range in age from 4 months to 22 years, who grow and change daily, we manage to keep all of their “stuff” working for them while continuing to figure out new ways to enhance their lives and occupations.

Garden Club Transforms Courtyard at St. Mary’s Home

Nathaniel G. and Koko, who live at St. Mary’s Home, showed off the transformed courtyard near St. Mary’s entrance to Garden Club of Virginia President Kim Nash (standing, in red) and members of Norfolk’s Harborfront Garden Club. Also joining the group were Suzanne Eason, St. Mary’s supervisor of occupational therapy support services, standing at far left, and Ron Herrick, who leads St. Mary’s environmental services department, which has worked on the courtyard along with garden club members.

KimNash, president of the Garden Club of Virginia, visited St. Mary’s Home today to see how Norfolk’s award-winning HarborfrontGarden Club has transformed a courtyard for the children and young adults toenjoy.

Nash toured the Home and the courtyard and met with some of the children — Koko and Nathaniel G. — and staff. A $10,500 grant from the Garden Club of Virginiarecently enabled the Harborfront Garden Club to complete the courtyard afterseveral years of work.

“I was blown away by it,” Nash said after seeing the courtyard in person for the first time. “You could see Nate and Koko — they brightened when they went out there.”

Thecourtyard, near St. Mary’s main entrance, had been mostly filled with grass. In2007, the Harborfront Garden Club began working with Girl Scout Troop 5067 toturn the courtyard into a Butterfly and Sensory Garden.

Gardenclub members planted plants and bulbs they dug up from their own gardens, aswell as plants donated by a nursery and $500 in plants the club won in anational website contest. They also raised funds for the project by selling a cookbook.

Asthe plants flourished, the club funded the installation of a major feature inthe courtyard: a 500-gallon fish pond, which members of St. Mary’s environmentalservices department built in 2009.

Thecourtyard is surrounded by large windows, so the children, their families,visitors and staff can enjoy views of the garden from inside. Going into thegarden, though, wasn’t that easy for the children and young adults, who usewheelchairs.

Then,last year, the Harborfront Garden Club won the Common Wealth Award, which providesgrants to community projects of the Garden Club of Virginia’s member clubs. Thelocal club used the $10,500 stipend to buy more plants and to install paved,wheelchair-accessible pathways this summer.

“Winning the award has helped us toessentially complete this project,” said Betsy Murphy, president of theHarborfront Garden Club. “It got the children outside, which was the wholepoint – to have them enjoy a sensory, healing garden.”

To see more photos of the courtyard, including views from the rooftop, see St. Mary’s Facebook page.

Reelin’ in the Years

Today was Blast from the Past Day, part of SECEP’s continuing Spirit Week. Folks at St. Mary’s Home reached into the back of their closets — in some cases, way back — to dress up to represent various decades.

The 80s seemed particularly popular:

Tom Dvorak, St. Mary’s facilities department

Suzanne Eason, supervisor of occupational therapy support services

In some classrooms, there was a mix of decades:

Teaching assistant Martha Robertson (50s), teaching assistant Nichold Price (70s), teacher Teresa Anderson (70s) and teaching assistant Stephanie Nixon (80s)

And then there was the 40s, as in 1540s: 

Larry Phillips, occupational therapy technician

St. Mary’s Own Elf

(bottom photo by Weyo)

The hall outside the Occupational Therapy Support Services Department at St. Mary’s Home is decorated like Santa’s Workshop. Inside the department, technician Mamie McCloud is busy as one of Santa’s elves, especially at this time of year. She adapts toys so children with severe disabilities can use them. With an array of tools, she deftly replaces small switches with large buttons that are easier for the children to push to make toys dance or play music.

Mamie is profiled today in a nice feature in The Virginian-Pilot newspaper of Norfolk; you can read the story here.

Be sure to check out the accompanying video, which features Mamie and Suzanne Eason, who supervises OT support services, as well as Ashley and Carrington, two of the children of St. Mary’s Home: