Julie Tyus is an occupational therapist who has always had the desire to help people. Ever since she could remember, Tyus has always stood in solidarity with those who have been mistreated or looked down upon because of their differences.
The inspiration also came from her experience of watching her mother help visually impaired children. Watching her mom work with different therapists and students helped spark the idea and interest of helping children learn physical and speech therapy.
“It’s always been in me,” said Tyus. “Whenever I shadowed an occupational therapist, I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Her mission is to get the community more aware of occupational therapy—looking at the activities a person needs to get through their daily life. It is the combination of helping an individual learn both physical and cognitive skills and could range from learning how to brush teeth, to learning how to put on a shirt. Tyus specializes in working in the pediatric clinical department, helping children ranging from young infants to age 18.
One could imagine the many tasks that go into the daily life of Tyus as a therapist. Although each day is different, she does have the opportunity to build relationships with her patients, or what she likes to call them, her kids.
Daily, Tyus can be found conducting assessments, planning treatment sessions, parent reports, observations, and determining what skills the child needs to work on. Two of the main goals in pediatrics is getting the child to be as independent as possible and reach their development milestones.
Tyus also describes how extremely active her profession can be. She is always “on the go” as she describes, but her career is very rewarding.
“If I have a six-month-old baby, who is still struggling with tummy time and can’t sit up, we’re going to start with core muscles,” said Tyus. “But then I may have a 12-year-old who wants to learn how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich but can’t figure out how to scoop the peanut butter, so we’re learning how to scoop the peanut butter.”
Being an occupational therapist requires a master’s degree in which Tyus received hers from Augusta University, also known as the medical academy of Georgia. She attended Valdosta State University for her undergraduate program.
Tyus is on her fourth year being employed at AmeriTherapy Services, located in Valdosta, being her first job since graduating.
When it comes to the children that come in to see Tyus, there are children that meet their coordination goals or improve their developmental delay within a specific time frame, but there are other children that may take longer to become independent.
If that is the case in which the child is over 18, then there are adult programs that AmeriTherapy will send those individuals where they can continue to build skills.
During the pandemic, it seemed that every person, business, and organization had to adjust. Although it was a confusing and difficult time, Tyus was able to work around the changes.
Teletherapy and telehealth (video sessions) were the way of life in the beginning stages of COVID-19. This made having to be creative during therapy appointments.
“I think the best part about COVID, was that some parents realized, ‘I can help my child, and I can do meaningful and purposeful activities with things I have in my house,’” said Tyus. “I think that sometimes parents feel pressure of, ‘Oh I don’t have a sensory gym, or I don’t have all of these toys or equipment.’”
One thing Tyus made very clear: it’s a team effort while working with children and their families to make progress. As one may imagine, Tyus does have those parents who become stressed during the process of their child receiving occupational therapy.
It’s in those moments where she tries to uplift and encourage during those hard conversations and provide a support system. Building trust goes a long way.
“That is not something they teach you in school,” said Tyus. “A lot of times we’re on the front line, and we’re the ones who have to tell the parent and say, ‘Look there’s a little bit more going than just a developmental delay, and we need to seek some outside resources.’ But I think if anything, it’s like the parent typically appreciates us being honest with them.”
One piece advice that was said to Tyus was to celebrate every ‘inch stone’ instead of a milestone. This motto has helped her with the day-to-day duties involving her patients. She said that some days can be slower than others, but she must remind families that small progress is still progress and should be celebrated. Everything is deliberate and intentional.
“Overtime we expect a big change, but it is day by day, even if you see tiny little changes,” Tyus said.
Tyus encourages everyone to get a better understanding of occupational therapy if you are not familiar with the subject. Bringing awareness is important, especially if you have questions about your own child.
Occupational therapists see patients more than a doctor, who may only see their patient once every few months, even more so in the pediatrics world. She also encourages parents to reach out to a pediatrician if they do find early signs of slower development, and to not be afraid to ask questions.
Written by: Tyrah Walker