Kids get creative therapy
Colored blocks flit between the tiny hands of a soon-to-be toddler playing on his hands and knees while his mother sits patiently a few feet away.
In the waiting room of A.LL Therapy Connection in Maitland, it seems like playtime. But there’s a method to the fun and games of Antonia “Tonina” Llull’s therapy sessions just beyond the waiting room door.
Kathleen Williams, a nine-year patron at A.LL, started bringing her son C.J. when the facility first opened in 2001. When he first arrived, C.J. had trouble speaking and expressing his needs. Not anymore, thanks to Llull’s creative approach to therapy.
Recalling her first conversation with Llull, A.LL’s founder and director, a smile spread across Williams’ face.
“She starts explaining ‘sensory integration’ to me, and I had never heard of it, but she described my son back to me,” Williams said. Soon C.J. was improving, and he owed it to A.LL’s techniques.
Llull and her 10 other therapists work with children ages 0-18, and sometimes as old as 21, by using a sensory integration approach, which develops a child’s physical, social and emotional skills by improving upon how they organize and process information.
“We figure out why they haven’t gained the skill yet, what’s interfering with their function and then we establish long and short-term goals to tackle those issues,” Llull said.
How they tackle those issues is the key. For some, it’s with board games. Others may learn to control behavior by learning how to control a basketball.
A.LL patients’ needs vary from learning disabilities that impact their academic or social performance to children with profound disabilities who will be dependent on a caregiver for the long-term.
Williams saw the most improvement in her son when he began going to the Maitland Academy, a school Llull also opened to serve children with special needs. After having a challenging time in middle school, C.J. attended the academy for seventh and eighth grade.
“All of a sudden, I saw my child who had been falling apart in middle school become this confident preteen and start feeling like he could help others and interact with people,” Williams said. “I watched him go from not being comfortable in his own skin to being very comfortable, and I really credit Tonina, the other therapists and the school with that.”
Longtime patron Emily Cruz loves bringing in her 8-year-old son Julian.
“It gives me new hope and new confidence seeing him progress so quickly here,” she said.
By using games during the sessions, the children seem unaware that they’re in a therapy session. Greg Kelley has been bringing in his 5-year-old son Jack for a few months, but Jack doesn’t see it as psychological treatment — he sees it as playtime.
Jack dribbles a basketball near his father, as Llull helps him with control. “If you ask Jack, he would say we just go to Miss Tonina’s and play,” Kelley said. “That’s probably the best part.”
Parents are welcome to sit in on most sessions as a way of getting them involved in the process.
“I always was at peace when he was with Tonina, and I was in the waiting room like oh, good, I know he’s with family. I didn’t have to worry,” said Marianne Mancone, a five-year patron and mother of Anthony, a previous patient who is now graduating high school.
Cindy Facchini has been bringing her 7-year-old twin sons since 2008 and said she loves how pleasant the office is. “When you hear them on the other end of the line, you know they’re smiling.”
A.LL is celebrating its 10th anniversary all year, with events planned monthly. The first event is an open house on Sunday, Feb. 27. Complimentary face painting, crafting and yoga classes will kick off the celebration, along with developmental screenings and iPad and iPhone application demonstrations.
“It’s our way of reaching out to the community, letting them know we’re here, and letting our friends who already come here enjoy an afternoon with us,” Llull said.
A.LL Therapy Connection 10th Anniversary Open House is at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 27 and will feature children activities, free developmental screenings, yoga and iPad demonstrations. They’re located at 140 Tonina Cove, Suite 100 in Maitland. Visit AllTherapyConnection.com or call 407-388-0246.