Family involvement

Cindy LaBar and Matheny student Ryan O'Connor.

Cindy LaBar has always wanted to work with children. But she had never spent much time around kids with developmental disabilities until interning at Matheny in 2003 after receiving her MS in physical therapy from Columbia University. “It’s the small accomplishments that are so rewarding and are so huge for our students and patients,” she notes. For example, “one of my students had a really hard time holding up his head. By putting him on the therapy ball on his back, he was able to hold his head up for a brief time, and he broke into a big smile.”

After her internship, LaBar joined the Matheny staff and was named director of physical therapy in 2006. Ironically, her daughter Hanna was born with a rare chromosome anomaly as well as a cleft palate and heart defect. Hanna, who is now seven, is non-verbal and in a wheelchair, although, according to LaBar, “she can take about 20 steps alone.”

Her experience with Hanna has helped LaBar understand what the families of students and patients are faced with. “ You constantly have to be an advocate for your child—the right school, the right therapies. My focus here has shifted a little to really get involved with the families.”

Hanna has also had an impact on LaBar’s own family. “If my five-year-old son Jack sees a kid in a wheelchair,” she says, “he wants to know him.”

Cindy LaBar and her daughter Hanna.