Susan “Sue” Smith-Foley, Occupational Therapist
Susan Smith-Foley is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist who has clinical expertise in school-based practice for well over 20 years, providing both comprehensive evaluations and intervention for student’s ages 3 – 21 years.
Questions and Answers with Susan Smith-Foley
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: Kean University 1983; Seton Hall University 1988; and currently – The University of Kansas Medical Center
Q: How long have you been DIR-FCD Faculty?
A: Since August 2011.
Q: How did you come to work with developmental challenges?
A: I discovered the DIR model through attending the Spring and Fall Conferences held in Tysons Corner, Virginia in the early 2000’s. I was working with children with complex profiles in my private practice and in the schools. Expertise and certifications in my own discipline were certainly helpful but did not provide me with a holistic understanding of the child in the context of his or her primary relationships. The DIR model, co-created by Drs. Stanley Greenspan and Serena Wieder, provided an integrated inter-disciplinary way of assessment and treatment. These tenets resonated deeply with me. Before I knew it I started attending the five-day summer institutes directed by Serena Wieder, PhD. This professional journey of learning, discovery, and understanding children and caregivers is a process that continues to date.
Q: Was there a particular child or family that opened your door to the DIR-FCD model?
A: One elementary school student stands out in my mind as I was first learning and applying DIR model/ Floortime principles. This student appeared very self-absorbed and displayed significant repetitive behaviors in the classroom. He appeared unavailable for relating, learning, and communicating using traditional methods. One day I joined him in his play with his objects of interest that included string and ribbons. Almost immediately we had moments of shared attention and engagement which led to the emergence of pleasurable back-and-forth circles of communication. It was a real “aha moment” for me. His wonderful paraprofessional and teacher followed suit and soon we began to see other developmental changes. I recently had the opportunity to reflect on this with his paraprofessional from years ago. She so eloquently stated, “you taught me how to enter M.’s world and then he was able to enter mine.”
Q: What are some of the most important things you integrated into your work from other disciplines?
A: I feel that there is always so much more to learn from the mental health and developmental language domains. Development unfolds each day so our lens and knowledge also needs to expand.
Q: What do you feel you contribute most as an occupational therapist?
A: I feel my knowledge of overall developmental processes, individual differences in sensory processing, family-centered care, and my knowledge of school-based practice are strengths that I bring to the teams that I work with. I currently provide DIR-FCD model consultation services in a public school district in New Jersey three days per week. Within this role I collaborate with teachers, paraprofessionals, and other therapists, provide training and support, and work with students and their care primary caregivers directly. One of the new initiatives this year is that I am using the Profectum Parent Toolbox for staff training in three DIR-FCD model /Floortime preschool classrooms. Participants take a brief pre and post test that I develop for each webcast which allows me to measure the transfer of knowledge. We stop and discuss individual students, ideas, and strategies as we view each webcast which makes the learning very meaningful.
I feel that the DIR-FCD model and occupational therapy is a perfect match. Occupational therapists now include an Occupational Profile in all evaluations which includes information about strengths, meaningful activities, client and caregiver priorities, etc. These are things that DIR-FCD model clinicians are always thinking about.
Q: What are your professional interests?
A: My current professional interests and areas of study include play, self-regulation, use of sensory-based motor interventions in the classroom, and integration of the DIR-FCD model into school settings. An example of something that I do based on current research is that I use data-driven decision to determine the need for and the impact of a sensory-based motor intervention on occupational performance in the classroom.
Q: What are some things we might not know about you?
A: I love to exercise. I ran competitively in high school and into adulthood. I have completed marathons and ultra marathons. I now am just a jogger and I love to ride my bike. Each year I do the 5-Boro Bike Tour in New York City and ride in long distance charity events. Research shows that movement and exercise in children and adults provide benefits beyond just weight management and cardiovascular health.
Q: What are your screen time recommendations for families?
A: I recommend that families establish parameters for access to screen time in the home using the American Academy of Pediatrics 10/21/16 Guidelines (refer to link below). I also discuss the importance of sensory exploratory play, functional play with objects, and symbolic / dramatic play to overall development and learning.
Q: Do you have any recent publications or presentations?
A: I entered a post professional occupational therapy doctoral (OTD) program at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) in January 2015. Pursuing a doctoral degree reflects my passion of being a life-long learner and my quest to stay abreast of and contribute to evidence-based practice.
I am currently working on a qualitative research project on the DIR-FCD model in fulfillment of my OTD Degree. This research project will examine perceptions of the DIR-FCD model among preschool staff in a public school setting. The main purpose of this qualitative research project is to increase understanding of the use this model in public preschool and early childhood settings.
Q: What books do you frequently recommend to families or colleagues?
A: Self-Reg by Dr. Stuart Shanker; Autism Solutions by Ricki G. Robinson, M.D., M.P.H.; Sensational Kids by Lucy Jane Miller, Ph.D.; Behavioral Challenges with Autism and Other Special Needs: The Developmental Approach by Dr. Diane Cullinane
Q: Do you have anything else you would like to share?
A: It has been a privilege and an honor to be a part of the planning and implementation of the Profectum Lakewood Professional Certificate (Basic) Course that launched in a live format in June, 2017. This change in format meets the training needs of professionals who reside in Lakewood and enables children and families to receive DIR-FCD model interventions from highly trained and knowledgeable clinicians.