Published on March 19, 2018

Quad City Teen Thrives After Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Ryland does a stretching exercise with Occupational Therapist Jenni Petersen

Ryland Feist, 13, experienced difficulty with handwriting, reading, and balance before receiving care at the Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center in Bettendorf

Imagine the ideal kid who is every parent’s dream. Ryland Feist fits the picture perfectly. An honors student and award-winning swimmer, success and hard work are far from foreign concepts.

That sense of hard work and ambition not only comes from his parents, Branden and Dave, but from his past in overcoming difficulties with handwriting, reading, and balance as a patient at the Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center.

Facing the Problem

Ryland’s journey began five years ago when his third-grade teacher noticed he was having trouble copying words and shapes off the board.

“Ryland’s teacher pulled me aside and told me he might need occupational therapy,” recalls Branden, Ryland’s mother. “It was hard. As a parent, you make excuses for why you didn’t notice something was wrong.”

A pharmacist at Genesis, she knew about the Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center in Bettendorf. She and her husband, Dave, immediately called and scheduled an appointment for their 8-year-old son.

“I went in a non-believer,” said Ryland’s father. He assumed his son was experiencing the same problems as every kid and would get past it over time. “I told the therapist that she needed to show me. She printed off studies and put him through exercises to prove that this was what he needed.”

Yet Ryland’s problems were bigger than just the inability to track from board to paper.

More Than Meets the Eye

FThrough occupational therapy, Ryland was able to greatly improve his balance, handwriting, and reading.or his first appointment, Ryland faced a thorough evaluation of his occupational abilities.

“We immediately looked at his sensory system,” said Occupational Therapist Jenni Petersen, MS, OTR/L. “The sensory system consists of touch, sight, smell, hearing, movement, and musculature.”

“This system provides a basic foundation for more difficult tasks to be built upon. Think about reaching into your pocket and being able to retrieve a quarter verses a penny. It’s about interpretation and understanding.”

The results were a mixed bag. He had trouble writing and reading, but his balance was suffering, too. Jenni realized they would need to focus on his sensory system, coordination, and muscle strength to truly make improvements.

According to Jenni, many kids have difficulties in these areas but don’t receive necessary treatment.

“A recent study has shown that 50 percent of kids who have learning difficulties also have a sensory integration problem,” she said. “And this is completely separate from their intelligence.”

“Kids like Ryland are very intelligent. And when they’re having difficulties in school, it’s usually with something like reading or math. So they get a tutor to help with that one specific area versus looking at the entire system to solve the problem.”

If left unaddressed, Jenni says these difficulties can persist, creating lifelong barriers.

The culprit? Not entirely clear. But it could be from genetics or a change in or lack of traditional stimulation of the body.

“Think about the electronics kids use,” Jenni said. “When on a tablet or phone, you just have to use your pointer finger versus when you throw or catch a ball which involves more movement.”

Bringing the Work Home

Along with Ryland’s appointments, he did activities at home every day after school. The Feist’s basement turned into a gym—a space entirely dedicated to their son’s progress.

Dave recalls the nights spent working with his son. “I made him work hard. But I know my kid. I knew what I could get out of him.”

Jenni helped by developing a list of activities for Ryland. One involved him catching a soccer ball with different letters printed all over it. After he caught it, he would have to read the letter at the center.

Another activity involved spinning on a turn-table of sorts. Afterwards, clearly dizzy, he participated in balance and coordination tasks.

“It was interesting and fun,” Ryland said. “It didn’t always feel like I was working on something.”

Finding Success

Ryland swimmingRyland and his parents realized that this problem wasn’t going to disappear overnight. But after a couple of years, they began to see life-altering progress.

Now, at the age of 13 and almost six-foot tall, Ryland is a pro.

“My balance has improved a lot,” he said. “Before my writing was illegible. Now it’s not.”

And this has led to success in school and athletics. Ryland is nationally-ranked in swimming for his age group and regularly places in the top three in state competitions.

“I don’t know what I like about swimming specifically,” he said with a shrug. “I just love it. It’s fun. It’s my happy place.”

As for his parents, they’re just grateful.

“Ryland was fortunate enough to have a teacher to recognize there was a problem,” Dave said. “If it weren’t for that teacher and Jenni--and for all of Ryland’s hard work—he wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

To learn more about the Genesis Outpatient Pediatric Therapy Center in Bettendorf, click here or call 563-421-3497.

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563-421-3497

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