Equipping children for independent futures: St. James Parish Hospital offers occupational, physical & speech therapy

Published 12:05 am Wednesday, July 31, 2019

LUTCHER — Through working with pediatric therapists, children master the cognitive, gross motor and speech skills needed to achieve success and independence in the classroom and beyond.

Families don’t have to look far to find individually tailored occupational, physical and speech therapy services.

Marissa Laurent has worked in occupational and physical therapy since 2003, and she services patients of all ages at St. James Parish Hospital in Lutcher.

As a mother, she considers pediatric services to be critically important.

Twins Blair and Brewer Waguespack, 20 months, are learning through play with help from an experienced team of therapists at St. James Parish Hospital.

“It was important for me for my children to meet their milestones,” Laurent said. “I think it’s important for all kids to be able to function at the highest level possible. You want people to become independent adults, so they need to learn not just the sensory side of things, but the cognitive side, like following directions.”

According to Laurent, both physical and occupational therapy disciplines work on balance and core strength. However, physical therapy focuses more on leg strength and walking, while occupational therapy works with hand use for essential life skills.

Occupational therapists might help children play with toys, master handwriting, cut with scissors, use utensils for feeding or manipulate buttons and zippers to get dressed.


Occupational therapy assistant Lauren Wisecarver helps a young patient master fine motor skills.

“It’s the whole gamut,” Laurent said. “I feel like we are just a small part of that, and a lot of that learning and training is going to come from home. We do a lot of family education on how to manage unwanted behaviors.”

Carryover to the home is extremely important, according to occupational therapy assistant Lauren Wisecarver.

Luckily, therapy services are often a coordinated effort between families and outpatient settings such as St. James Parish Hospital, and Wisecarver has seen amazing results.

As a former speech therapy patient, she’s a success story herself.

“Kids are amazing,” Wisecarver said. “You could be working with them for weeks or months, sometimes years, and when they finally do something you’ve been striving for, to me, that’s the best feeling. Just because they have a certain diagnosis, it doesn’t mean they are going to be a certain way. It shouldn’t define them.”

Most children in therapy have some sort of developmental delay, whether it is linked to premature birth, autism, sensory processing disorder or other diagnoses, according to Wisecarver.

Some activities therapists work on include riding on scooter boards, working on puzzles, jumping, rolling and playing with kinetic sand.

Sensory stimulation is especially important, according to Laurent.

“Once their nervous system is calmer, then they are more likely to be able to do things,” Laurent said. “A lot of times, the beginning of a session involves a lot of jumping, rolling and more aggressive play to get it out of their system. Then they can do something more structured.”

She said children guide their own therapy sessions by choosing what activities interest them.

“You’re trying to see certain functions, like can they use their fingertips to pick something up? A lot of times, you take a complete left turn to find another task that captures their interest and try to incorporate what their goal was.”

Speech language pathologist Sarah Lydell has worked with patients from six weeks old to 104 years old at St. James Parish Hospital.

Twins Blair and Brewer Waguespack enjoying some playtime while at SJPH.

“Early intervention is key (in pediatric cases),” Lydell said. “The earlier parents notice their kids not meeting milestones, the better the outcome.”

If children are not using words by 18 months old, it may be time to seek speech therapy, according to Lydell. She said speech works on anything from developing communication skills — verbally or through a communication device — to swallowing and feeding without choking.

“Even before I was a mom, I felt like communication was always important,” Lydell said. “Sometimes the behaviors children are using are because they are frustrated that they can’t communicate. Helping them find ways to understand that even as a child, they have a say-so gives them a sense of independence.”

To receive therapy services at St. James Parish Hospital, families must receive a referral from a health care provider. Once the referral is received, the Hospital starts the registration process of checking insurance benefits. Medicaid is accepted.

Insurance dictates the number of visits a child receives in a weekly or monthly basis. Therapists also submit what they believe a child needs based on evaluation.

Services are also available through the public school system, according to Lydell.

“We have to make sure we don’t overlap services, but we can coordinate with those therapists and make sure we are working toward the same overall outcome,” she said.

For more information, call 225-258-5934.