Health, Wellness, & Self Care,  Special Needs Parenting

Creating a Family-Friendly Office: A Guide for Therapists & Doctors

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If you are a therapist, doctor, or someone in the healthcare or human services industry, you have probably put a lot of thought into your office. My personal experience, though, is that often the office (where the client or patient is engaged) is adequate but the entire facility (especially the waiting area) has much to be desired. I believe that the families and siblings of special needs kids are often overlooked, and no where has this been more apparent to me than while trying to keep a fussy baby or toddler occupied while his big brother is in therapy.

Little Brother, crying in a therapy waiting room because he wanted to go with brother!

This guide hopes to offer you (the therapist or provider) the perspective of those left out in the waiting area. While you are doing HARD work in providing the therapy or care for their child, they are also doing hard work:

The parent has gathered the child and all of their belongings, along with everything their sibling(s) need for the outing. They have, perhaps, traveled a distance. They are worried about how their child will do in therapy, how they will keep the siblings engaged, how much money everything is costing, and what they are going to cook for dinner when they arrive home – tired and exhausted. Among other things (like taking lots of selfies out of boredom).

Having a space that meets the needs of the entire family is paramount. I know that therapy office space differs, as does the financial capability of the provider to provide these things. This is just to get you thinking.

The biggest thing I want you to take away from this post is the idea that the needs of the entire family are important – in reality, the FAMILY is your client or patient. No one office is probably going to be able to provide EVERYTHING on this list. But you can take baby steps to make YOUR space more family-friendly.

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General Tips for Creating a Family-Friendly Office Environment:

WiFi. People in waiting rooms rely heavily on their devices. We can decry the societal woes that have made this the case another time. But tired special needs families need their devices and their WiFi. Period.

Make the WiFi fast enough to stream Netflix and make the password accessible. Consider using a sign like this:

wifi password therapy office

Charging Stations. Devices (especially those being used by moms and toddlers in waiting rooms!) die quickly. Consider replacing the outlets in your office waiting areas with outlets with USB ports. Invest in some Amazon Basics charging cords and create a charging station for your clients.

Bathrooms. Consider making it so that the bathroom is accessible for all to use, without asking for a key or having to be buzzed back to a less accessible location.

  • Having soap from somewhere like Bath & Body Works or even Target’s Method brand can be one of many “extra touches” that makes your clients and their families feel valued.
  • Add a stool and perhaps a toddler potty seat for little ones who may be potty training. Potty training waits for no one. Consider replacing your toilet seat with a space-saver seat that has a toddler seat already installed, for an inconspicuous addition that is easy to keep clean along with the regular toilet.

  • We will discuss the needs of babies further in a moment, but please consider having a trashcan WITH A LID and having diaper trash bags available so that moms have a place for dirty diapers without worrying about stinking up the bathroom for everyone to follow.
  • Air freshener or Poo Pourri – sometimes, you just gotta go!
  • Extras: fresh flowers and a candy dish of mints or chocolates never hurts either.

Water, Coffee, Snacks & Drinks. Theoretically, smart mamas have all these things with them because they have planned ahead and not run out of the house in a rush without forgetting Goldfish and juiceboxes. But in the real world where special needs mamas live, it’s not that simple. I can’t tell you how many times I forgot my water bottle, ran out of the house without snacks for the baby, or found myself yawning in the waiting room desperate for a cup of coffee.

God bless the therapist who has a comfy couch and makes mama a cup of coffee!
  • Have a mini-fridge stocked with bottled water, soda, and juice boxes for the littles
  • Have a basket of healthy, kid-friendly snacks like individually wrapped bags of Goldfish, Teddy Grahams, or fruit snacks. Include some granola bars for the parents.
  • Consider a basic Keurig or similar system, with an assortment of flavored coffees (make sure to include some decaf!)

TV. This one is controversial – I’m not even sure how I feel about it. I’ve been in plenty of waiting rooms where the TV was on a Spongebob Marathon or some soap opera and was completely OBNOXIOUS. In those instances, my goal was to distract my kids away from the TV.

If you DO have a TV on, keep the volume loud enough to hear but low enough to not be overwhelming. Nick Jr. or PBS are probably the best and safest choices for little eyes and ears and include a lot of educational programming. Netflix and Amazon Prime also have a lot of great shows, if you want to set up a system that functions with apps rather than a TV service (like Roku or a smart TV).

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Let’s Talk About Those Babies!!!

Especially if you are dealing with pediatric clients or patients, the chances of them having infant siblings is pretty high. Please read further for the must-haves that mamas need!

Yes, that’s my 6-week-old baby having tummy time on a therapy waiting room floor!

A Changing Area. Whether it’s in your restrooms (see above) or in a separate area, PLEASE have a place for parents to change diapers!!!

Bean bag chairs are great for waiting children AND babies!

A Baby-Only Area. This is an investment, but moms will THANK YOU!

I really struggled with how to keep my baby safe and happy, especially when he started crawling. Occupational therapy was a struggle because there were a lot of older sensory-seeking kids around who wanted to touch, poke, prod, and be rowdy. I get it. My older child was one of those kids, which is why we were there in the first place! But…I got really frustrated with it (as did my baby), especially when other parents didn’t try at all to instruct their kids to not touch my baby. I ended up spending a lot of therapy sessions in my minivan!

Consider setting up an area that clearly says “Babies Only!”

  • If you have a bit more to spend, a play-yard is a great investment!

We used this for YEARS in our house, and it was affectionately known as “Baby Jail.”

  • If you have even more to spend (and you have a lot of office space), there are some fabulous playpen options out there as well!

A Nursing & Pumping Area. Not every mama is comfortable nursing in public (I know I wasn’t!), so having a designated area for moms to nurse or pump for their babies is really a great idea!

Get this sign here!
Get this sign here! 

Toddlers & Preschoolers:

  • Kid-friendly seating or tables. There are so many great options out there, but something like this would be wonderful. Provide some washable markers or crayons and coloring books (hit up Dollar Tree!) and make a place for kids to kill some time.

  • Toys, blocks, and puzzles. It doesn’t have to be huge or elaborate – just something to keep the littles occupied:
Wooden puzzles are great for little hands and a handy storage rack makes for easy cleanup!

It’s a small but powerful and mesmerizing device!

This was actually at an adult gastroenterology clinic. This mama was thrilled!

I write this from the place of a been-there-done-that mom. Little Brother (who was born when Ezra was 5) has been tagging along to therapy appointments since he was about two weeks old. One of the biggest factors in us switching occupational therapy practices (and then quitting OT altogether) was that between the hour drive to the clinic and trying to keep Little Brother occupied during that hour, I was so stressed out that I didn’t feel it was worth the benefit that we were gaining from having Ezra getting therapy from that practice (although the practice itself was AMAZING and I was definitely torn about leaving).

I just hope that this post will mean there are less moms having tailgate parties with toddlers while their older children are in therapy!

Yes, one time I brought laundry to fold!!!

 

6 Comments

  • Micki Aber

    I usually love your post, but this one seemed incredibly self centered! Wear you baby in when going to PT/OT because the other children are sensory seeking! You spend a lot of time in waiting areas? Why are charging plugs and cables not in your baby bag? Mine are every time I leave the house. The same goes for the little diaper bags. The therapist office does not need to provide them for your child’s dirty diaper, you do! And while toys are appreciated, that also means they have to be wiped down every day with a bleach solution, adding to the cost and time factor.

    • Aprille

      I disagree.

      Not every mom is able to babywear (physically) nor is every baby happy to be worn (my second hated being worn).

      Yes, things like diaper bags and charging cords are things I always try to bring with me. But have you ever run out of the house on the way to therapy and forgotten something? I know I have, especially when I was prepping with a baby or toddler in tow for a therapy appointment an hour away after picking up my special needs child from school. There was a LOT to remember, and I was exhausted!

      Sorry if this post doesn’t measure up to your standards. I’m only human, and going to therapy with two kids was really hard for me and my kids. Some of these things would have made it easier.

    • Tiff Lowery

      I agree. I felt like the majority of this list sounded very entitled. It is your responsibility to provide for your child. I think all moms are inconvenienced at times, but that’s just part of the job.

      • Aprille

        Being inconvenienced IS part of the job. Doubly so when you are a special needs parent. But wouldn’t it be nice if the world were slightly more friendly and convenient for moms? I think so. These are just suggestions – baby steps, if you will – to ease the burden special needs moms carry. If you think this is entitled, then this probably isn’t the blog for you.

  • Rachel

    I don’t ever leave replies on blog posts, but I feel like the judging happening here is uncalled for. I took this list as “in a perfect world, this is what would be nice.” I’m a mom of typical kids and I think some of these ideas sound lovely. And I know of many doctor’s offices that already have some of these items, so it’s not completely out there.

    Of course every office is not going to implement ALL of these items, but wouldn’t it be nice if they took one or two ideas and said “Huh! She’s right. That would be nice.”

    I would be curious to know if the people who have commented on here have special needs children. If not, please don’t compare your experience with someone else’s. You have no idea what they go through on a daily basis. If you do, please don’t compare your experience with someone else’s. Your struggles aren’t the same as someone else’s. This is the problem with mommy wars.

    And let’s be completely honest: anyone who needs a charger for a device already has at least a small sense of entitlement. 😉 #firstworldproblems

    • Aprille

      Thanks for having my back. This was exactly my intention -one or two things on this list would be nice, just some ideas to get you thinking! – with writing this post and was a little shocked that anyone came away with anything else.

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