MA '99, Occupational Therapy
Now a successful occupational therapist and author, Lindsey Biel did not start her professional life as a therapist. After receiving her bachelor’s degree in English from SUNY Stony Brook, she spent 15 years as a writer and editor for several advertising agencies and publishers. She eventually opened her own advertising and sales promotion business with a client list that included Barnes & Noble and Cartier. After deciding to change careers, Lindsey came to the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development with the help of a New York City Department of Education scholarship, which required her to work as a school-based therapist after she graduated. In 1999 Lindsey completed her master’s degree in occupational therapy and began her two-year work commitment in Manhattan elementary and high schools. Lindsey recently wrote Raising a Sensory Smart Child with Nancy Peske about how parents, teachers, and professionals can help children dealing with sensory integration dysfunction.
Why did you decide to enroll in the Occupational Therapy program at NYU?
While I enjoyed running my own business, I didn’t feel that my work contributed enough to society. I was in my mid-30s and began to look at a variety of fields – psychology, social work, and even medical school. I had a cousin who was paralyzed in a plane crash when we were teenagers, and I began thinking about what he went through in rehab. As I researched occupational therapy, I knew it was the perfect profession for me – practical, meaningful, and with a wide range of applications – from mental health to assistive technology to pediatrics. One can work a lifetime in such a profession and always have something new and interesting to learn.
Where did you begin working as occupational therapist, starting with your internships and then after graduation?
I interned at Florence Nightingale Medical Center [physical disabilities], Special Sprouts Preschool [pediatrics], and St. Vincent’s Hospital’s Day Treatment programs [mental health]. I began working at PS 158, an elementary school on the Upper East Side. I also worked at School of the Future with teenagers. During the summers I worked at schools with children with physical disabilities and autism. I started doing some early intervention with kids, ages 0-3, after school hours. After I finished my commitment to the Department of Education, I started picking up more early intervention work and got referrals from schools and pediatricians to work with older children as well, and within a few months I had a thriving practice.
You co-authored a book on sensory integration dysfunction with the parent of a child you treated. How did that come about?
Sensory integration refers to how people use the information provided by all the sensations coming from within the body and from the external environment. We are constantly registering, processing, and integrating this sensory information in order to function efficiently in the world. For a child who has sensory problems it’s like the volume controls on one or more sensory system are out of whack. Clothing can feel like sandpaper. Walking on an unstable surface can feel like bungee jumping. Entering a school cafeteria can feel like being at a rock and roll concert.
Nancy Peske’s son had sensory integration dysfunction as well as related developmental delays and I treated him through the NY State Early Intervention program. I worked with him for a year, teaching Nancy what to do. Nancy was so grateful to get the help she needed for her son, and also spent a lot of time communicating with other parents through online support groups. We realized that many families do not have access to knowledgeable guidance.
Nancy is the kind of person who is very active in research and gathering information. She was on a lot of chat boards and started gathering up tips about sensory integration dysfunction. It made sense to put it all together for people. We wrote Raising a Sensory Smart Child to provide practical information and solutions to everyday problems that parents, teachers, and others face when dealing with sensory issues. Co-writing Raising a Sensory Smart Child was a wonderful way to unite my prior career as a writer with my second career as an occupational therapist. It was a huge honor to have Temple Grandin write the foreword for us, since she has been such an inspiration. [Temple Grandin, who has autism, is a professor of animal science who has designed U.S. livestock handling equipment and has also written extensively on autism.]
What has been the response to your book?
The response has been outstanding! We’re getting invited to speak at major conferences and to parenting groups across the nation. We’ve been on television and radio. For a parent outside of a major metropolitan area, it’s not so easy dealing with a child with sensory integration dysfunction. A therapist may not have much knowledge about how to help a child with sensory problems. I’ve received emails from people in Alaska to thank me because without the book they would not have been able to get the information they need. And that kind of email pleases me beyond words.
Would you now describe yourself as a specialist in this field?
I don’t want to say I specialize in sensory integration. While I wrote a book about sensory integration, that’s just one part of pediatric occupational therapy and working with kids. In my practice, I look at the whole child – motor skills, vision skills and visual perceptual skills, social skills, as well as things like nutrition, sleep, stress, developmental delays, picky eating and so on.
Are you still in touch with Steinhart faculty?
There are faculty at NYU who are excellent clinicians and they end up being your colleagues and contacts. One of my professors set me up to speak at the OT Month proclamation ceremony at Beth Israel Medical Center. That was really quite an honor. When Nancy and I spoke at the 92nd Street Y in November it was really wonderful to see my cognitive rehabilitation professor in the audience. Living and working in New York, it’s wonderful to bump into my former professors at conferences and local coffee shops.
Written by Heather Marie Graham