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SPEARFISH — Parents in the Black Hills who have children struggling with behavioral issues now have a new place to turn for help: Whole Child Wellness, located at 526 W. Jackson Blvd.

“I’m hopefully the first of many pediatric therapies here,” said Carly Messner, pediatric occupational therapist and owner/operator of Whole Child Wellness. “We work on a variety of different things from behavioral issues to picky eating, if there’s any sort of deficit in their activities of daily living.”

Messner has spent the last 10 years working as a certified pediatric occupational therapist. She’s worked for school districts and hospitals as an independent contractor. She said she wants to see more access to resources for children and their families who struggle with occupational issues, which is what inspired her to open her outpatient office in Spearfish on Sept. 1. 

Messner said that in a society where more and more aspects of life are being outsourced to smartphone apps and online environments, it’s becoming increasingly more difficult for children to develop the basic skills needed to interact and function in the physical world. She said she was inspired by the example of her mother who was an elementary school teacher, who also focused on engaging children in visceral experiences.

“Seeing her and her passion for kids was huge,” she said. “There was all kinds of cool hands-on fun things in her classroom, and that’s kind of how I grew up.”

Messner said that many times people hear the term “occupational therapy” and assume it’s only meant for people struggling at work, but it’s really just about helping people cope with the expectations of daily life. She said that children are often times overlooked in that regard. 

“They may not go to the job site but they have to sit at the table for a meal, go to school, interact with friends and teachers,” she said. “That’s the occupation that we look at.”

Messner said any sort of behavioral issues parents notice in their children that take any kind of toll on the whole family are indicators that professional intervention may be needed.

“There’s often more going on than what meets the eye,” she said. “Sensory processing and symptoms of ADHD, those things are more widely known, but what to do about it isn’t necessarily known.”

She said sometimes the behavior is simply a normal part of a child’s development within the scope of each individual’s situation, but it never hurts to ask.

“It’s just addressing the whole child, so its not just these behaviors or that pencil grip, or whatever the thing is,” she said. “It’s looking at the child’s environment and looking at the relationships with its family.”

Messner explained that after an initial consultation, if further treatment is determined to be necessary, she uses a combination of structured playtime and communication to redirect the child’s behavior to the desired end.

“Sometimes the thought of therapy is overwhelming and the parent can feel like they did something wrong,” she said. “That’s why I want children to come in and feel comfortable and safe, and I want the families to feel empowered by seeing them succeed at these different things.”

Ideally, Messner said she prefers to see children and their caregivers simultaneously in order to get a better sense of how they interact during difficult activities; however, it’s sometimes better for the development of the child to go through the motions on their own and have a progress report given to the parent or guardian.  

“There can be so many layers to the parent/child relationship that need to be worked through,” Messner said. “Sometimes its way more empowering for the child to do it without the parent there.”

There are so many nuances to childhood development and behavior; Messner said it can be difficult for parents, let alone the children themselves, to keep up with everything that is expected of them.

“There’s just so many demands (on) kids and if there’s anything going on neurotically or behaviorally then it just becomes super hard,” she said.

Messner will host a children’s wellness fair on Oct. 25, with several other sponsors. She will be offering free occupational and speech therapy screening for kids and will be available to talk with parents about any issues they or their children may be struggling with.

For more information about Whole Child Wellness visit www.wholechildwellness.org, or call (605) 388-2993.

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