Recreation therapy: “no labels”

“What’s really good about the recreation therapy program at Matheny,” says Leah Friedman, “is that the students and patients aren’t identified by their disabilities; they are identified by their likes and dislikes.  You don’t just look at someone and say, ‘Oh, he has cerebral palsy.’ You look at him and say, ‘He likes to play soccer.’”

Friedman, shown here in yoga class with a Matheny student, grew up in Short Hills. She spent 15 weeks at Matheny this past summer, splitting her time between working with adults in the Adult Services program working with children in the classroom at The Matheny School.

What really impressed Friedman, who earned a degree in therapeutic recreation from Ithaca College in May 2011, were the interdisciplinary teams of therapists. “In the classroom,” she says, “I would be working directly with occupational therapists, speech therapists and physical therapists.”

Throughout her college years, Friedman had done fieldwork, but it was mostly with recovering stroke victims. This was her first experience working with a young population and with people whose disabilities had been with them from birth.

“My first day at Matheny,” she recalls, “some of the adults immediately struck up a conversation with me. They were asking questions about me and school and everything. I was the shy one.” So fulfilling was her experience that had there been an full-time opening available at the end of the internship, “I’d have done it in a heartbeat. It’s just a great place.” She remembers a moment during her internship when, one of the kids looked at her and grabbing her hand said, “I’m really glad you’re here. You’re my best friend.” It doesn’t get much better than that.