Field Talk is a monthly blog post sharing the voices of early childhood providers who serve or have served military families of young children with disabilities (birth to 5 years old). We hope you find it to be educational, personable, and encouraging.
This month we talked with Linda Stanfill, OTR/L. Ms. Stanfill is an occupational therapist and the owner and operator of Cornerstone Pediatric Therapies, LLC in Clarksville, TN. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Describe your current role.
My role is to provide therapeutic care to children ages birth-12 years and parent education to enhance the self-care, play, and academic skills of their children. My other roles involve managing a small clinic with 6 employees.
What’s your favorite part of your current job?
My favorite part of my job has always been working with the children and getting to know their families intimately. It has been my great pleasure to be a part of the journey that families find themselves on with their children.
Tell us about experiences you have had working with military families.
Ninety percent of the children I see are members of military families. Being from a military background myself, both as a child and as an adult, I understand the challenges and benefits of this unique lifestyle especially being separated from your extended family and having limited access to help with life’s daily ups and downs.
How did you come to work with military families?
I moved to this military town with my family when I was a teenager. Once I began working with children in this area 18 years ago, military families became the most common population referred to my clinic.
Describe a rewarding experience working with military families.
My experiences with those I serve have been very rewarding. It is my intention to make every family feel like our staff is their extended family offering any support, encouragement or other special needs they may have as they provide for their children, including lending a listening ear when needed, giving Starbucks cards to a frazzled mom, and even using my roadside assistance for a locked car. I do not need to be thanked for what I do but I have many treasured cards from families who have moved away or “graduated” from therapy telling me about the impact our clinic has made in their lives. I am grateful for the unique position I have.
Describe a challenging experience working with military families.
One of the most challenging aspects of working with families in general, but especially military families, has been keeping the child on a consistent schedule. It is difficult to be far from home with no one to assist with daily challenges. Initially, our families have the perception that we do what we do for monetary gain alone. It takes time for a family to begin to relax and let their guard down, but once they see we are not here to judge but to help, our relationship becomes deeper.
From your experience, how are military families similar and different from other types of families? How do you change your practice between families?
Military families have more difficulty making it to therapy on time or at their scheduled appointments. They come into the lobby frazzled and with several children in tow. We have mostly mothers who bring their children to therapy. At times they have to arrange transportation with their spouses, dropping them off at work prior to using the car for therapy or errands. We also have mothers whose spouses are deployed and they are in the area without family. We have children whose mothers are deployed and their other parent has a much more difficult time justifying leaving work for their children’s appointments. We try to make life more manageable in any way we can. This means we make every effort to schedule appointments when it is best for the family. We have very flexible families and if we ask one family to adjust their schedule because another family needs that time, military families do not hesitate to do what they can to help.
As providers, how can we support military parents who are deployed or away frequently due to trainings/school?
Being aware of the family’s needs outside the realm of therapy is a great start. Adopting a perspective of treating the family as a whole actually has multiple benefits for the child’s progress toward goals. It has to be a partnership to achieve goals that fit for everyone. What we do once or twice a week will not effect nearly the same change as what the parent can do during the remainder of the week.
Describe a specific stressor that military families with whom you have worked have shared or experienced.
We meet moms who have very little contact with other parents. Many enjoy the company of other moms in the waiting room while their children are in therapy. They receive fellowship, advice and support regarding their child’s disabilities or life in general. Lack of time and management thereof is the biggest source of stress that I see in the parents we service.
What “insider” tips or advice do you have for service providers working with military families who have young children with disabilities?
Making home exercises manageable and functional for their daily lives will increase the likelihood that exercises will be performed.
If you could change or improve one thing for military families with young children with disabilities, what would it be?
I would love to see moms become more confident about their abilities to manage their responsibilities. Too often, they second guess themselves or feel judged by others. These moms are amazing at the flexibility and resilience they must have to provide so much of the family’s needs on their own. I wish they could be proud of what they accomplish and not focus so much on the tasks left undone or performed in a “less than perfect” way.
What types of resources have you sought out to feel more confident and competent at meeting the specific needs of military families? (e.g., trainings, blog posts, organizations, etc.)
I read articles written by colleagues and seek assistance from resources. I get a lot of my child friendly activities from Pinterest because the moms and therapists who post on that website have amazing ideas!
This post was written by Robyn DiPietro-Wells & Michaelene Ostrosky, PhD, members of the MFLN FD Early Intervention team, which aims to support the development of professionals working with military families. Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network FD concentration on our website, on Facebook, on Twitter, YouTube, and on LinkedIn.