The Children's Institute Blog

Meet Katie / National OT Month and Autism Awareness Month

Posted: Apr 23, 2018 by The Children's Institute


Katie was Christy Nicola’s second child and she knew pretty early on she was different.

“She was too perfect. She never cried,” Christy said. “I would sit her in a bouncy chair and she’d be fine – for a long time. I knew right away. She had no eye contact or the need for contact with me. Julianna, she spoke, she was getting around before she was 1. Katie came along and there was no babbling, there was no first word.”

At 3, Katie was diagnosed with autism. Now 7 and one of three children in the family, we feature Katie today as part of National OT Month and Autism Awareness Month.

“When I first met Katie, she wasn’t doing any self-care skills by herself.”

That’s occupational therapist Barb Warden, who regularly meets and treats Katie.



“We work on dressing, hygiene, and simply a sense of independence,” Barb said. “But what’s more important is the routine of it. That’s what Katie knows – ‘teach me a new routine.’”

Part of that is desensitization. Katie has highly sensitive feet, which makes certain activities difficult. Barb has worked on routines for keeping on socks and shoes, as well as brushing Katie’s feet or putting them in a bowl of uncooked rice to build her levels of comfort.

“She keeps the socks on the whole lesson now – it’s huge,” Christy said.

Those small victories have led to larger victories. Mom keeps a journal of Katie’s responses to certain situations or feelings, which has led to less intense meltdowns. Katie’s also getting an AAC device to help her communicate.

Katie’s younger sister, Madelyn, has special needs, too. That’s a tall order for Julianna, 8, the eldest child.

“Julianna is great with both of them – she was meant to be a sister of a special needs child,” Christy said. “She loves to tell her friends about autism and what it means. She’s a perfect, little example of autism awareness.”

Katie also has benefitted from learning to swim at The Children’s Institute – a major achievement considering nine out of 10 accidental deaths of children with autism occur due to drowning. In one of her early sessions, therapist Blythe Westendorf let Katie dunk her head under the water.

“I was horrified and Blythe was, like, ‘Christy, she needs to learn to come back up,’” Christy said. “Now, we take her swimming all summer.”

Again, Barb credits routine.

“Her routines and daily structure have helped her grow,” she said. “Now, she’s even started doing chores around the house – wiping down the table after dinner, folding towels, things like that.”

Christy says it simply.

“This has been life-changing for us.”


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