Haley Hatfield - Decade of Occupational Therapy at Hopebridge
March 05, 2019
March 05, 2019
It’s a dream for many students to discover a profession in college that fulfills their passions and then be able to dedicate themselves to it for 10+ years. For Hopebridge Occupational Therapist Haley Hatfield, this dream became a reality, enabling her to impact the lives of hundreds of young children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental delays.
Even at a young age, Haley knew she wanted to work with children in the health care world. She started at Purdue University with a general health science track, where she heard from professionals in physical therapy and occupational therapy (OT). She immediately felt drawn to OT and it stuck with her, so she went on to master in occupational therapy at the University of Indianapolis.
While trying her hand in different focus areas during her fieldwork rotations as part of her education, another student introduced her to Hopebridge (formerly known as Homefront Learning Center). Haley toured the pediatric-focused clinic in Kokomo, Ind. and met with Hopebridge Founder Kim Strunk. She remembers having a great feeling about working there, even though it was far from her home near the Indianapolis area. The connection was mutual and Haley soon received a contract position working under Kim as the primary occupational therapist. Haley eventually took on the majority of her caseload in Kokomo and Marion.
“I received a unique experience working alongside Kim to treat patients. She was my mentor as a new grad and it’s been incredible to watch her vision evolve over the past 10 years as we have grown across multiple states,” said Haley. “From the obstacles Kim faced to the celebrations along the way, where we started and how far we’ve come is difficult to put into words.”
This experience has enabled Haley to touch the lives of so many families and team members. She has actively worked in five different centers and has visited nearly all Indiana locations, along with a few in Ohio and Kentucky and currently works out of the Hopebridge Carmel center. What she loves most about the center-based model is each location may have a different patient mix and run slightly differently in order to accommodate the individualized programs, but it’s all one team in the end. She enjoys working alongside speech therapists, registered behavior technicians (RBTs) and other professionals to meet the needs of the children.
“Unlike in-home programs and other therapy options, we are able to interact across disciplines and learn directly with each other,” said Haley. “Other clinics may have multiple services in place, but are working in silos and can feel isolated, whereas the Hopebridge environment is specifically set up to receive the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration.”
Haley and her OT team see the kids they work with approximately one hour at a time, once or twice a week. Since the Hopebridge360 model is centered around applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy), many of the kiddos attend throughout the week, giving the other therapists the chance to interact and catch up with them more often. Another advantage is constant communication with RBTs to make sure there is carryover with goals.
Much of Haley’s workday is built around developing play skills since play is a child’s biggest occupation. Many of the kids who attend Hopebridge for occupational therapy do not yet have the developmental skills to know how to play. To a bystander, much of the therapy may look like the child is not doing much, but learning how to put together a puzzle, stack blocks and imaginary play in a toy kitchen are extremely important skills. Interacting with the environment in this way is often how a child with autism is able to develop prose, for example. When they do not have the skillset to choose an activity and play, it causes a lot of delays. There are so many skills therapists can teach them by building upon their interests and allowing them to have a choice in what they would like to do.
It is the little everyday victories that occur during this time that mean something to Haley.
“When I was right out of school, I would look more toward the big things like, ‘when will he write his own name,’ or ‘when will she get dressed on her own?’ Since then, I have learned to embrace the everyday accomplishments that take place. Maybe he walked to the therapy room today without crying or tolerated being in the same room with another child. Maybe another girl made one mark on a paper,” said Haley. “If you’re not really looking for it, it’s easy just to focus on the big goal but we can’t forget all those little obstacles they have to overcome before reaching the big goal.”
Other meaningful moments that drive Haley in her role are those in which the parents get to experience them for the first time, such as when she takes a kiddo back out to the therapy room and he runs to his mom or dad for a kiss for the first time. She has also had the opportunity to support families outside of the center, like the time she accompanied one to a grocery store.
“We all have to go to the grocery store, but many of us take it for granted and don’t think about how challenging it can be for a parent of a child with autism,” said Haley. “To be able to help a child walk alongside the cart and grab a few things, then leave without having a major tantrum is huge for a family who was not able to go out together in the past.”
Through Haley’s eyes, a diagnosis is part of a person, but it does not define him or her.
“When I evaluate a child who has the autism diagnosis, I look at how the factors that align with autism, such as difficulties in communication, sensory-processing, and restrictive and repetitive patterns of behaviors are impacting their daily routines. However, the biggest emphasis is placed on identifying this child’s strengths and how we can use those to minimize his or her challenges,” said Haley.
She never limits a child’s potential based of the diagnosis. She has seen so many children make huge accomplishments in therapy, which enables her to see there are many possibilities for each and every child who comes into Hopebridge. Although Haley believes autism doesn’t define a child, she sees the impact it can have on parents and family.
“I want the families to know they are not alone. We are here to help these kids live the best life possible, which also means helping the parents navigate this world once they receive a diagnosis,” said Haley.
In fact, Haley wanted to better understand the diagnosis and help these children and families so much that she did not stop with her OT degree. When she began working, many of the children on her caseload had ASD or showed signs of autism, and she sometimes felt stuck or not as prepared as she would have hoped. She found the therapeutic needs to be different than those of a neurotypical child, which is what drove her toward another master’s degree to become a board certified behavior analyst (BCBA). While she chose to continue serving as an occupational therapist, the knowledge of ABA she gained is something she has added to her toolbox to help children reach their maximum potential.
“So many people spend so much time and energy on their jobs, yet don’t feel they’re in the right place. I never had to question whether I’m doing the right thing. If I had to do it all over again, I would choose the same exact occupation,” said Haley.
We at Hopebridge support Haley in this decision, as we have had more than 10 years with her and would not have it any other way! We know the children and families she has worked are also grateful for her care and service.
If a profession in OT, behavioral health or another therapy role like Haley’s sounds like the career path for you, visit the Hopebridge job board.
Fun fact: “In OT school, I traveled to Ukraine with a few other students and two OTs to advocate for our profession. We spent a lot of time in orphanages and visiting families’ homes to do consultations from an OT perspective. It was an experience I will never forget!”
If she had a superpower, it would be: “I would love the ability to close my eyes and be exactly where I need to be and not have to travel. I could be at home in one minute and at work the next.”
Podcast of the Moment: “I listen to autism-related podcasts to keep up to date with current topics and research, plus I can get continuing education credits through some ABA podcasts. I also enjoy listening to the stories behind how companies and products were started on the ‘How I Built This‘ podcast with Guy Raz.”
Favorite Book: “The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, by John C. Maxwell. It’s about living to your potential and taking ownership of your own life. I like to read personal development books.”
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