Balancing act

Cindy and Hannah LaBar.

Cindy LaBar, Matheny’s director of physical therapy, is also the parent of a child with a disability. Her eight-year-old daughter Hannah was born with a rare chromosome anomaly. LaBar’s experience with Hannah has helped her understand “what families of our students and patients are faced with.”

In an article she wrote for the July/August 2014 issue of NDTA Network, the magazine of the Neuro-Developmental Treatment Association, LaBar outlined several key points for parents of children with disabilities to keep in mind:

• “Find balance between therapy goals and family time.”

• “Maintain open, ongoing communication with your child’s school team and within your family.”

• “Integrate physical and academic functional skills into your daily routines at home.”

• “Place importance on skills and have expectations for your child.”

• “Be creative and create a positive, peaceful environment for your child and family while having fun!”

LaBar acknowledged in the article that, during the first year of Hannah’s life, “I forgot one very important thing: I was her mom first, not her therapist. I struggled tremendously to find a balance. I have often thought how ironic it is that I specialize in helping children just like Hannah learn to move. I have wondered why it is that my work and personal worlds are so similar. I wonder why Hannah was chosen to be with our family. Of course, I cannot fully answer any of these questions, but I do feel confident that Hannah has included me in her journey so I can help other families find this balance that I have been searching for.”

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.