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Meet Karina Black of Skills 4 Life Pediatric Occupational Therapy in Boulder

Today we’d like to introduce you to Karina Black.

Karina, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I’ve always been passionate about working with children. As early as the third grade, I found myself drawn to helping children with special needs and began assisting in my school’s special education classroom. I continued volunteering with special needs children throughout high school. The work I did with these students, and my love of helping others, led me to the realization that I wanted to become an occupational therapist (OT).

Before calling Boulder, Colorado home, I owned a highly successful OT practice in Palm Springs, California. In my private practice, my staff and I provided therapy services to a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, an adult daycare program, and an outpatient clinic. I worked with clients whose ages ranged from teen to centenarian to help them heal from orthopedic injuries and adapt to neurological conditions such as spinal cord injuries, strokes, Alzheimer’s disease, and traumatic brain injuries.

After moving to Colorado, I became a certified Handwriting Without Tears® specialist and started Skills 4 Life Pediatric Occupational Therapy. This allowed me to reconnect with my passion for helping children gain the confidence and life skills required for optimal success. Initially, I specialized in handwriting instruction and remediation, but my practice quickly expanded to include teaching keyboarding, facilitating social-emotional learning skills, and providing executive function coaching. Due to the successful outcomes that families experienced during the early years of my practice, I soon found myself with a growing number of students to serve. Wanting to help more children in the community, I decided to expand my practice. I now have two offices in Boulder, employ three amazing therapists, and provide OT services in five private schools.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
During my work on an interdisciplinary rehab team, I observed a shift in the healthcare system away from the patient-centered care that had drawn me to the field toward a more profit-centered model. Frustrated with the changes I was seeing, I frequently found myself taking on the role of patient advocate to ensure that my clients received the quality of treatment they deserved. It was at this point that I stopped practicing within the confines of the medical model.

Since starting my pediatric practice, I’ve found that balancing my desire to provide outstanding clinical care with the need to manage the necessary logistics of running my own business has been my biggest struggle. To address this challenge, I’ve learned to delegate specific tasks and grow my support team.

Please tell us about Skills 4 Life Pediatric Occupational Therapy.
My outstanding team of therapists and I are certified Handwriting Without Tears® specialists and provide handwriting assessments and remediation. We are known for our expertise in this area and love seeing the rapid improvements many of our students make once they start working with us. One of the most gratifying things about the work we do is seeing the leap in self-confidence students experience when they recognize their own progress.

We are also known for our eight-day keyboarding intensives, during which elementary-aged through high-school-aged students develop the automatic sensorimotor skills required for efficient touch typing. Our students learn to touch type without looking at the keyboard in less than eight hours. Many of the children we see have spent significant amounts of time attempting to learn these skills in other settings and find themselves successful for the first time after completing our program.

Another crucial component of my practice is providing executive function coaching to students. We teach students skills such as time management, organization, planning and prioritizing, the use of good study skills habits, and self-regulation. We also offer 7 Habits of Happy Kids and 7 Habits of Highly Effective Tweens and Teens classes that focus on social-emotional learning. I’ve seen this work decrease stress within families, improve school performance, increase social skills, and help children more effectively manage their daily routines. The profoundly transformative impact these skills have on the lives of our students cannot possibly be overstated. It is so gratifying to see the children we serve exhibit an increase in confidence and self-esteem!

Looking back on my 30-year career as an occupational therapist, I feel that my greatest professional achievement is having created a successful and growing practice that helps hundreds of children each year. It’s a blessing to watch our students blossom and develop the life skills they need to succeed in school and beyond.

Where do you see your industry going over the next 5-10 years? Any big shifts, changes, trends, etc?
The profession of occupational therapy provides functional daily living support for people of all ages and ability levels at crucial junctures in their lives. It is a field that benefits from advances in research and technology and shows every sign of continuing to expand and thrive as our population ages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 18 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.” Because of its ongoing focus on helping people navigate the kinds of chronic and acute physical conditions, learning difficulties, and disabilities endemic to life lived within a human body, I believe that OT will continue to be an indispensable form of care.

Pediatric OTs will always play an essential role in helping children in both academic and private settings. Schools are identifying sensory, emotional, and neurocognitive issues at earlier ages and have improved their ability to offer families the necessary resources to address these issues. There is now a strong focus on teaching the executive function and metacognitive skills that prepare children for successful futures. There is a newfound emphasis within schools on coaching children to actively regulate their energy, emotions, and attention in ways that support academic and social success. When students need extra assistance in any of these areas beyond what can be reasonably provided within the classroom setting, private OTs have a unique opportunity to complement the work being done at school. In my experience, parents and teachers tend to be both open to and grateful for external intervention during these times.

For all of the reasons outlined above, it is my opinion that the field of OT offers professional stability and promises to be an exciting, successful, and vibrant career choice for those who pursue it.


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