I’m Michaela Gordon, occupational therapist.
I would like to share my personal journey with you about why I became an occupational therapist and how my personal and career experiences have led me to the types of services I offer children and families today. My interest is becoming a therapist stems from my early childhood experiences. I had difficulty in school, starting in kindergarten. By the time I reached 3rd grade, I was diagnosed with a processing disorder and received special education service until 7th grade. Even though I was a motivated student and was liked by my teachers and peers, paying attention and interpreting verbal instructions caused both academic and social challenges for me.
In addition to academic struggles, I also had difficulty with motor coordination. Whenever I started a new activity whether it was soccer, basketball, ice skating, dancing, swimming, or piano, I couldn’t seem to pay attention, understand the instructions, or figure out how to plan out actions with my body.
With supportive academic services, hard work, repetitively engaging in various extracurricular activities, and figuring out ways around some of my challenges, my developmental skills improved over time. With each passing year, my academic and athletic skills both improved. These improvements raised my self-esteem and my connection with peers, but yet I continued to struggle in many ways for years later.
When I expressed to my high school counselor that I wanted to be a physical therapist, he suggested that I choose a different career because I would not get into any therapy programs because my SAT scores were too low. I applied for 12 schools and although I was accepted into all of them, I did not get into the physical therapy programs.
I decided to go to Springfield College and completed my undergraduate coursework in Rehabilitation and Disabilities Studies. While there, I was asked to take an I.Q. test as part of a study. To my surprise, I did quite well! It was at that point, that I realized that my belief that I was not smart because of my processing disorder, was simply not true. The potential for me to learn was there, but I just needed to understand how I learned best.
From there, I started to take the prerequisites for the physical therapy program and passed all the classes. I was determined to become a physical therapist. However, my original misfortune of not getting into these programs ended up being good fortune. Through a series of coincidences, I discovered the field of occupational therapy and decided that was a better fit for me.
Through my disability and rehabilitation classes, I learned about the disability rights movement. As a child, I helped coach a Special Olympics swim team and I also babysat for a little boy with cerebral palsy so I took a special interest in being part of this movement. I also could relate because I too was a child that didn’t fit the typical mold and there were hurdles for me becoming what I wanted to be. Many of my classes focused on mental health and a person’s ability to reach self-actualization.
I learned that each person has a life purpose and endless potential, which is something that I strongly believe in to this day. Occupational therapy not only addresses the physical aspects of a person, but also their spirit and their mind. Oddly enough, I feel like instead of me pursuing a career in occupational therapy, it found me!
My passion was to work with children and I was offered a position at a private school for children with Autism in Southport, CT. I had a wonderful opportunity to work with a team of professionals to help each child through a multi-disciplinary approach. This is where I learned about sensory integration and began my journey into neuro-based treatment.
I then went on to work for a contracting agency and held a position as a school-based therapist. Working in this setting helped me gain more experience in how to provide therapy in an inclusive manner and how to provide support to teachers in terms of implementing accommodations to meet a child’s OT-based needs within the school setting.
In 2006, I moved to California and worked for a hospital treating children in the clinic and home-based settings. I gained more experience working with children in the birth to 3 population. I learned more about sensory integrative therapy, social skills therapy in the group setting, and how to conduct a broader range of assessments.
In 2007, I was hired by a smaller pediatric clinic in Ventura, CA. In this setting, I primarily provided home-based therapy to the birth to 3 population. It was in this setting that I began to work with infants and learn more about the first year of life. Transitioning to services in the home setting, allowed me to see the importance of looking at the child’s needs within the context of the family and community systems. It was working in this way, that I began to understand that parent education and realistic home programming that works for the families was essential to the child’s success in therapy.
In 2008 I slowly transitioned into private practice and by 2012, I started my own full-time occupational therapy practice. I primarily worked in the home and community settings with children and families until 2018. In March 2018, I decided to open an office in Santa Barbara, CA, which has allowed me to provide more types of therapies to children and their families. I do provide services outside of the office as well when that is appropriate and needed.
I am continually changing my therapy model to meet the current needs of children and their families. I offer a collection of therapeutic options that I hope to continue to add to for years to come. I look at the whole child to determine their individual needs. I then look at the child’s needs in the context of the family and community they interact with.
I take the theories and treatment concepts that I have learned over the years and I utilize these tools in a way that is unique to each individual. I believe in going right to the source of the issue, which is why I choose neuro-based treatments to address the core of the difficulties with everyday skills. I also pull in the mental-health piece and the social-emotional piece that tend to coincide with sensory-motor challenges. I spend timing discovering how the child thinks and perceives themselves based on their daily interactions so we can start to shift their perspective to empowering thoughts and beliefs.
As the treatment begins to change their functioning, I help them perceive themselves in their new way of being. Parent, siblings, family members, friends, and teachers also perceive the child in a certain way so I act as a support to help others adjust to the positive changes being created within the child. I feel that this is something that I offer that is unique. I feel this is why my treatments are effective.
My mission is to support children and their families through the therapeutic process so the child develops skills that lead to enriching and purposeful life experiences. My hope is that the development of their everyday skills will help them proceed forward in life with confidence! My other hope is that I can be their advocate and teach them to be an advocate for themselves, by encouraging inclusiveness in the community through education and support because we all deserve to live in a world that inclusive to all.