- Kristina Webb Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
A new form of occupational therapy with a fun twist for children is coming to Wellington.
Therapy Jump, a New Jersey-based practice with locations along the east coast, uses bounce houses to provide occupational therapy to children ages 2-12 with special needs, while giving them the opportunity to develop emotional and social skills, said Miriam Skydell, the program’s founder.
Therapy Jump is opening its first location in Florida at Joey’s Outback Adventures in the Fresh Market plaza near the Mall at Wellington Green. Skydell said she chose Wellington when a mother whose child has autism reached out to her. “She said, ‘We need you here,’” Skydell said.
The occupational therapist started the Sensory Bounce program four and a half years ago in Bergen County, N.J., after leading her practice there for 30 years. The idea came from a visit to one of the many indoor bounce house businesses springing up across the U.S. the past few years.
“I thought, it’s like a sensory clinic on speed,” Skydell said. “But these children can’t handle all the stimulation in a regular bounce house session.”
So Skydell developed a program where occupational therapists work with children on everything from low muscle tone and sensory processing challenges to autism and ADHD. The ratio is one employee to two kids, and 10 children per session.
While the children bounce and learn, parents are ushered into a separate room. “This is a way of me getting parents together,” Skydell said. “We offer parents a way to network and gain support.”
For Joey’s Outback Adventures owners Francesca and Michael Friedman, the program seemed fitting: Their son, Joey — who inspired them to open the indoor bounce house facility six years ago — has ADHD.
“We wanted to socialize him,” Francesca Friedman said, then smiled. “And boy is he socialized.”
That’s one of the benefits of using an environment like Joey’s for occupational therapy, Skydell said.
“What I found in my experience is that all the social skills therapy programs that are out there are in a simulated environment, she said. “This shows them what it would look like when you’re in a social environment.”
Between the towering bounce houses and toddler play area, Francesca Friedman said the facility is “great for kids to learn basically how to maneuver.”
The facility books up quickly with birthday parties, camps and school field trips. “Once people find us, they keep coming back and coming back,” she said.
For the parents’ support group, Joey’s has a cafe offering salads, wraps, sandwiches, pizza and chicken nuggets. Leather recliners in one corner point toward a TV screen where parents can kick back with a glass of wine and watch their children frolic via closed-circuit TV cameras.
“We’ve immensely improved it over the years to make it comfortable for parents to come here as well,” Michael Friedman said.
Skydell said she is working to hire a local occupational therapist to run the Therapy Jump program at Joey’s, and she hopes to launch the program by January. And she hopes the mother who reached out to her initially will sign up.
“The beauty of this is that we help the kids build relationships, and then we have them work on those skills,” she said. “That’s our goal.”