Originally published December 5, 2014
By Laura L. Acosta
UTEP News Service
After clearing out staff and equipment from four rooms in the Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center, Jaime Barceleau, the center’s executive director, was ready to launch onsite pediatric rehabilitative services. Or so he thought.
“This area was being used for a different purpose,” recalled Barceleau, a UTEP graduate. “I had to move all the things and people out. But before I could do that, I had to renovate the facility. Once I finished the renovations, I had the rooms empty and I go tell my staff, ‘Okay, we’re ready to start therapy,’ and they said, ‘No, you need stuff!’”
The empty rooms needed more than a fresh coat of paint; they needed to be transformed into treatment rooms designed to help children with special needs learn through play.
This past spring, Barceleau challenged students in the Occupational Therapy Program at The University of Texas at El Paso to convert the rooms into therapy areas for sensory integration, gross motor skills, autism and speech language services using cost-effective, modernized and evidence-based design elements.
Graduate students in the Research in Health Sciences course were divided into six teams. Each team submitted a grant proposal that included ideas for paint color, furniture, equipment and flooring based on research they conducted to determine what items best suited the different types of therapy for children. Each member of the team with the best proposal won a $250 gift card to the UTEP Bookstore.
“If you look at this room, it’s very motor (skills) inclined,” said Daniel Medrano, Ph.D., as he looked around the room where children will work on their gross motor skills. Medrano and his teammates Brittany Diaz and Denise Ramirez submitted the winning proposal. “You have steps that might engage somebody at a gross motor level and then you have the ball bath that would also do the same thing, as well as work on their fine motor skills. We also included a trampoline. We tried to give a really good flow to the room.”
The Paso del Norte Children’s Development Center, also known as the PDNCDC, offers services including an early childhood intervention (ECI) program for infants through 3 years of age. The center soon will offer pediatric rehabilitative services to children who complete the ECI program.
Barceleau invited Medrano, Diaz and Ramirez to the center a week before Thanksgiving to show them the results of their hard work.
“It’s so cool to see it in person,” Diaz exclaimed as she stepped onto the colorful floor mat with an alphabet and numbers puzzle. The soft and durable mat allows children to perform activities on the floor in a nonstructured environment similar to a home and classroom setting.
The students began the research process by looking through databases at the University Library.
“As we were learning in class, we applied the same principles to the research that we were doing,” said Medrano, who developed a strong research background before earning his doctoral degree in Interdisciplinary Health Sciences from UTEP in 2011.
Eugenia Gonzalez, Ph.D., a former assistant professor of occupational therapy at UTEP, who was teaching the Research in Health Sciences class at the time, thought the redesign project was a great way for graduate students to learn how to develop a research proposal, as well as to learn basic principles in grant development.
Gonzalez, who is now an occupational therapist at the PDNCDC, and Barceleau have collaborated on different projects through UTEP’s Community and Academic Partnership for Health Sciences Research (CAPHSR) in the College of Health Sciences.
Occupational therapy students also participate in clinical placements and a pediatric course in early intervention at the PDNCDC.
“This project with the PDNCDC gets students to understand how to develop a grant first of all and second of all for them to understand how a rehab program starts from the ground up,” Gonzalez explained. “So this is a new (pediatric rehabilitative services) program for the center, and as (future) therapists, they have to know the management aspect of setting up a clinic.”
The redesign project got Denise Ramirez’s creative juices flowing. She had the idea to place cork on the walls to minimize the noise from the adjacent rooms. Ramirez found that cork has better acoustic properties compared to other more expensive materials.
The team also suggested that the walls be painted blue because blue has a calming effect on children who are hyperactive or sensitive to different colors, Ramirez explained.
“This (project) is going to help us in the process of finding evidence-based research to find interventions that are appropriate for the clients,” Ramirez said.
In addition to her research, Brittany Diaz also referred to her past experience working with children with autism when she was an applied behavior analysis aide and speech therapy assistant.
“I’ve seen in clinics what’s worked really well for children, like the ball bath as far as getting them to get engaged,” Diaz said. “The Play-Doh, even though it’s the smallest thing in the room, I thought it was much needed for children for fine motor skills.”
Barceleau said the center’s investment in the students has paid off.
“The total investment is minimal in comparison to what we got in return for the knowledge that is all evidence-based work,” Barceleau said. “If I had to pay a consultant to do this, that would have been a whole different ballgame. At the same time, I graduated from UTEP. We hire a lot of UTEP grads. I’m a member of CAPHSR so there are a lot of UTEP ties here.”
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