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Today’s Meet a Mom interview is with Boxford mom of 3, Amy Wheadon. I first heard Amy speak about occupational therapy at my son’s preschool last fall and it was eye-opening to learn how kids of all ages and abilities can benefit from both the OT and enrichment programs that she offers through her business, KidSHINE. Keep reading to see how Amy uses structured, intense physical exercise and a play-based model to build strength, skills and confidence in local children.

Where are you from originally and what town do you live in now?
I grew up in Westchester County, New York, and went to Colby College in Maine, where I obtained my undergraduate degree in Psychology, and  fell in love with New England. I moved to Boston when I graduated from Colby to complete my Masters of Science in OT and then relocated permanently to the North Shore to start and grow my family. I currently live in Boxford with my 3 children and my rescue puppy, Luna.

How many children do you have and what are their age(s)?
I have 3 children: Lily (14), Jack (12) and Madison (10). We also just adopted a VERY ACTIVE, lab-mix, rescue puppy who is almost 6 months old. I unexpectedly became a single mother 8 years ago, so the decision to open my own business was highly influenced by me ensuring that I could be close to home for my children and that I had the flexibility to be present for all of their school activities while still working as hard as I could to provide for them.

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What’s your favorite family activity on the North Shore?
My children and I love biking on the bike path near my home, and we like to ride into Topsfield, Wenham and even Danvers. Our favorite winter activity is Escape Rooms, and we have tried several on the North Shore (we loved Skeleton Key when it was open in Lynnfield).

Where’s your favorite place to eat and/or shop on the North Shore?
I love to eat and shop local. As a small business owner (especially since the COVID pandemic), I find it even more important to support other small businesses, including restaurants. My children and I love Blue Boat, il Tapitio, and Off the Vine (all in Rowley) and Osteria Pepino in Topsfield for pizza! I don’t shop too often, but when I do, my favorite store (not as local) is Athleta.

Tell us a little bit about your background and how you started KidSHINE?
I have been a pediatric occupational therapist (OT) for more than 20 years. I worked in schools and clinics, and found that outpatient clinics offered the broadest scope of treatment for supporting children with OT needs and their families. When I worked in other clinics, I always had an interest in designing groups that were highly physical/exercise based. As a marathon runner and weight lifter, I understood how important intense physical exercise was for me personally to feel, “happy in my skin.” My dream was to open my own clinic that provided intense physical exercise as an OT treatment strategy for children.

After my divorce, I took a leap of faith and officially opened KidSHINE in my finished basement, in January 2016. I rented space in my friend’s gym in Danvers (and traveled to local preschools) to pilot the KidSHINE Bootcamp Program, which has grown tremendously in breadth and depth in the last 4.5 years. As I began to watch the significant effect of the KidSHINE Bootcamp Program on children of all ages and ability levels (but also specifically the effect of our therapeutic bootcamp program on children with sensory needs), I made the decision to take another leap of faith and complete my post professional, clinical doctorate. The focus of my doctoral research was to study the effect of the KidSHINE Bootcamp Program (and structured, intense physical exercise) on improving self regulation skills in children with sensory processing challenges. The measurable results were even more significant than I expected!

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What portion of your programs are for kids that need OT services and what portion is appropriate for any child?
KidSHINE is a pediatric OT clinic that uses a variety of different OT theories, with a hybrid approach, to ensure that each child feels safe, supported and inspired. We look holistically at each child to evaluate their unique needs and to see how these differences are impacting the child (and his or her family). Then we design and implement an individualized treatment plan (of play based activities) to help them achieve their potential, and succeed at home and at school with confidence.

In addition to the pediatric OT clinic, we also offer the KidSHINE Bootcamp Program, an enrichment program designed to facilitate motor, sensory and social development. We have developed several different programs, including therapeutic (Strong Kids 2, Brain Games), integrated (Mini Kiddos Preschool) and recreational programs (Girls Empowerment, Strong Kids 1 and Teen Conditioning), each tailored for different ages and ability levels. The common theme in all of the KidSHINE Bootcamp Programs is using structured, intense physical exercise to build strength, skills and confidence, and to foster positive peer interactions while promoting focus and the “just right challenge” for success in a group setting.

In addition, we offer “Ninja Warrior/Spartan Style) birthday parties (appropriate for any child) and we will soon be adding sensory friendly birthday parties.

What age children can enroll in KidSHINE programs?
We provide OT evaluations and skilled OT services for children ages 2-18 (with the majority of children being between 3 and 14). Many of our referrals come from pediatricians, schools, and parents themselves. Our OT evaluations and treatment are covered by insurance, and we accept many commercial insurance plans. We provide skilled OT services at both our Rowley and Amesbury locations.

Our Bootcamp Program has classes and summer programs for all age groups, including preschool groups, several programs for elementary ages, and a teen conditioning group that teaches proper form for weightlifting. We are hoping to add a toddler group, a mommy-and-me program and a self advocacy group for teens in 2021 as well. Our bootcamp classes and programs are not covered by insurance, but are reasonably priced to allow us to help as many children as possible. We provide bootcamp and summer programs at our Rowley location, and prior to the pandemic, we offered enrichment and developmental bootcamp classes at several area preschools and private elementary schools.

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How would a parent know if their child might benefit from OT?
There are several reasons why parents, teachers and pediatricians refer children for an OT evaluation, but the four most common concerns are:
1. SENSORY – My child has difficulty remaining focused at school and/or at home, he or she has a very high activity level and seeks movement frequently to the point that it interferes with play and other activities. My child may also have difficulty tolerating noise, food, clothes, textures, touch and is distracted by movement and visuals, and he or she can become easily frustrated.
2. GROSS MOTOR/ STRENGTH – My child seems to tire easily, he or she has a weak core and lays on the floor during circle time, he or she appears clumsy or uncoordinated, trips frequently, and has a hard time with endurance activities.
3. FINE MOTOR/VISUAL MOTOR – My child has an inefficient grasp, has difficulty with tool use and utensil use, complains of hand fatigue, has below age level self help skills, has difficulty completing age appropriate pre-writing, coloring and writing activities.
4. EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING – My child has difficulty staying organized, has great ideas but struggles to put ideas on paper, needs help to “get started” on tasks, has difficulty with time management and problem solving skills.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, how has your business changed?
KidSHINE, like all other small businesses, was affected significantly by the pandemic. We initially followed the schools and made the difficult decision to shut down the clinic mid-March. Despite the uncertainty and unexpected nature of the pandemic, there were several silver linings. I quickly learned how to “think outside the box,” to ensure that we could continue to be a support system for our clients and their families. Once insurance approved telehealth, we immediately initiated our telehealth platform to provide continued remote OT services for children who needed continuity of care (in April).

We also offered pre-videotaped bootcamp classes 3 days/week and then shifted to Zoom bootcamp classes once we figured out the technology. Once we were able to re-open in late May (during Phase 1, as we are a medical/health facility primarily), we immediately put a stringent and comprehensive protocol in place, which we continue to follow today (including masks, temperature checks, built-in cleaning time between sessions, daily screening calls to parents, individual project bags, limited sizes of groups, group programming outside as much as possible and dividing our clinic space into individual private treatment rooms). We also moved our office from Ipswich to our larger facility in Rowley (this was in the works pre-pandemic, and we were originally scheduled to move in the end of March). Our new facility has 6 doors to enter 6 different rooms, so we are able to treat several clients at a time, each with their own therapist and in their own area. We continue to respond to all regulations and changes and adjust accordingly to ensure that we are continuing to provide children with the highest quality of therapy possible in a safe and clean environment.

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You are offering Summer Camp Programs currently, do you have a plan for fall programs yet?
We have created a comprehensive plan to enable children to safely participate in our modified 2020 Summer Programs, and it’s been amazing to see how happy and excited the children are to move their bodies and be around other children. Given the current uncertainty of what structured learning will look like going forward, it’s even more imperative for us to continue to offer small group, skill building programming at KidSHINE this fall.

Like most other businesses that work with children, we are waiting to see what the proposed fall school programming looks like before releasing our fall schedule. I know we will continue to provide OT evaluations and weekly treatment sessions and I envision us continuing small group bootcamp classes in the late afternoons. In addition, I would love to offer skill building programs each morning for families who are participating in home schooling or remote learning plans. One area that we noticed many children struggling with (even more) during the pandemic was self regulation, so we plan to continue offering our Sensory Stars program this fall, to provide structured sensory input and teach children strategies to remain focused during hybrid or remote learning.

Any tips for balancing work & motherhood?
Don’t sleep…LOL. I think the key is to make sure that you are present with your children whenever you have the opportunity to be. Make spending time with your children as important of a priority (if not more so) than your business. I also like to include my children in the
programs that we run at KidSHINE. When they were younger, they would participate in classes and now that they are older, they enjoy helping out as interns. When my kids are at work with me, we are working together, and when I am home with them, I’m their mom first and foremost. Because we are an outpatient clinic, we see children after school and early evening, but I am always home for dinner, and I am able to put my work away when I got home so I can be present until my children go to bed (and then I start working again).

What is the best piece of mom advice you ever received?
The best advice I was given, is that you have to love and take care of yourself first, in order to be the best mother that you can be. I find, especially as a single mother, that I had a hard time with this concept initially, and once I started believing in myself, nurturing myself, and taking care of myself the same way I did my kids, I became a much stronger and much more present mother, business owner, and person in general. Now I can say with confidence that I am the type of role model that I want to be for my children (and for my clients). I want to be a positive example and let them know that every problem has a solution, every cloud has a silver lining and anything and everything is possible if you believe in yourself, think outside of the box, and stay the course.

What’s your favorite thing to do when you need some “me” time?
Hands down: running. Even if I can only squeeze in 3 or 4 miles, I find that by making my daily run a priority, it helps me to be a better person in general. I use my morning runs to think about my day, to problem solve any issues, and sometimes to just shut my brain down and enjoy the music in my ears, the wind on my face and the feeling of the pavement. My advice for other small business owners is to always carve out a little time for your passion–whatever activity helps you to let go and reset and feel ready for that day.

You can find more information about KidSHINE programs at kidshine-ot.com and follow along with Amy on Instagram (@kidshine.ot) or Facebook (@kidshine.ot).

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