When I became an occupational therapist 27 years ago, I began working in mental health. It had been my dream to work in the field of psychiatry. I quickly realized in my early years of practice, that my clinical toolbox was limited when it came to addressing the complexities that I encountered, specifically in children.
In addition to clinical roles, I served as the intake coordinator for a day hospital in the inner city of Baltimore and then worked as the director of child and adolescent services for a community mental health center, where we developed after-school programming, and residential and respite services for children with behavioral and emotional diagnoses.
What I remember most about that time is confusion. I didn’t understand why the children I worked with weren’t getting better. Many of them had large amounts and a range of medications, plus many levels of support from wraparound services and supportive families, yet they continued to struggle often. I saw these children move and sit differently than typical children. I saw how they overreacted to seemingly benign, everyday experiences. I saw many learning challenges that weren’t just rooted in negative behaviors — it seemed to me that it was the other way around. I suspected there was a missing piece and I wanted to find it.
This is when I landed on sensory integration. Over the next few years, I pursued further study and advanced certification in sensory integration treatment and have since dedicated my career to combining sensory and behavioral health interventions.
For many years, I was satisfied with the knowledge we had in my field, and how we could use the lens of sensory processing to explain, understand and treat many of the confusing and challenging behaviors of my clients. Eventually, however, I began to see that too was limited because sensory integration treatment wasn’t indicated for everyone. Fidelity measures were still just being developed, and since I saw such a broad range of clients and worked in varied treatment settings, I knew I needed to supplement with other interventions as I grew my own practice.
Discovering the Focus System
I discovered the Unyte Focus System (formerly Integrated Listening Systems) and, the more I used it, the more I saw what a great clinical fit it was for many clients.
The Focus System fit seamlessly into my knowledge base and into my practice. It used movement and music along with bone conduction through the headphones. This meant multisensory processing, to support skill-building in areas that I was already working on with clients, such as sensory motor development, attention and concentration or executive functions and auditory processing, as well as self-regulation. Sometimes I used Unyte’s Focus System without any use of sensory integration or other OT intervention and other times I used it along with my sensory integration services, depending on the client. Many of my clients experienced more rapid gains than I had seen before I began using the Focus System. It allowed me to serve clients who might not otherwise have received treatment and, for some of them, the Focus System was the only program offered.
What differences do I see when I use Unyte tools?
- I work more closely with families when using the Focus System because real progress can’t happen without them.
- I tend to do more education and coaching which means parents learn reasoning and techniques behind treatment and they get the opportunity to practice and receive feedback, which often carries over to other aspects of their parenting experience(s).
- A home program is an essential part of the Focus Program. This part of the tool lends more structure to my work with parents, and provides a way for me to set up more clear and effective home programs for families.
- Outcomes are clear. Many parents end up spending more playful and enjoyable time with their children, and they share specific observations from home with me more often.
- I see changes in children more quickly and it seems to come from a collaborative effort, instead of parents attributing change to my sessions alone.
- I can work with children and families remotely or in-person or using a hybrid model, depending on the client situation and needs.
- I see more revenue because of different income streams and potentially because of being able to serve a greater number and wider variety of clients.
Not all my clients who started the Focus System finished it. That’s just a reality, but in most cases, even before finishing the program, parents will often say to me:
- “He’s never been able to do this before.”
- “Now I get to see who he really is.”
- “I see a 180º difference in my child.”
- “He used to resist the listening but now he asks for it.”
Discover the Focus System
The Focus System is a clinical intervention used to improve brain function through brain and body integration via multisensory input.
Integrating the Focus System
The process of integrating the Focus System into daily practice varies for everyone. I adapted how I accessed the system and how I shared it with clients as my practice evolved. I started with one Focus System and immediately sold that first unit to the family I was working with at the time, then used that revenue to buy another one for my next client. I eventually bought back one of the systems I sold and rented it out or resold it to a different family at a reduced price. In this way, I gradually grew my practice and use of the Focus System without significant upfront costs. I have always factored the cost of equipment into my pricing and charged for Unyte services separately from my OT services. This method may not work for everyone, but the benefit is that there are many ways to price and bill for Focus System services. Every provider has the power and flexibility to establish their own business model and do what fits best for them and their clients.
Brain science is constantly evolving and it’s important to remain current with new learning. New learning is what led me to discover sensory integration and Unyte tools. The OT profession has also advanced significantly in its knowledge and understanding about what the brain and body need for development and function. I still consider Unyte tools as one of the most evidence-informed and effective set of tools in my OT toolbox. While I’ll acknowledge that I now work closely with the company, my journey with Unyte began organically and authentically out of seeing the outcomes in my clients when using the Focus System.
If you’ve been considering incorporating a tool like the Focus System into your practice, a great way to start is with the current bundle offered in partnership between Unyte and MedBridge Education, as both may help you to evolve your clinical practice. Next to my sensory integration certification, investing in Unyte tools is one of the best investments I’ve made in my practice for my clients. I hope to hear of the progress that you see in yours with the Focus System!