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Dreaming of a Life without Limits



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By Ashley Eady

While most people think of “work” and “play” as incompatible, Dana Cox has found a clever way to combine the two.

Cox is a licensed occupational therapist and the owner of DreamCatchers Therapy Services in Murfreesboro. Established in 2004, DreamCatchers provides a safe and fun environment for disabled and special needs children to cultivate the physical and cognitive skills they need for proper development.

DreamCatchers derives its name from the Ojibwe Native American legend of the dream catcher. Just as the traditional dream catcher protects a person from unpleasant dreams, Cox and her team help their patients to unlearn “maladaptive” skills. According to the website, “Within the web-like patterns of the loop, maladaptive skills become tangled, while adaptive skills can pass through towards a greater life independence.”

“At DreamCatchers, we strive to work with all children who have ‘special needs’ or disabilities,” Cox said. “That includes physical, developmental, intellectual, and socially/emotional challenged children from birth to 21 years of age.”

Traditional occupational therapy (OT) focuses on improving a patient’s ability to perform ADL —or “activities of daily living”—such as fi ne motor skills (e.g. writing and use of the hands), self-help skills (bathing, dressing and feeding), problem solving and socialization. OT can also involve speech therapy, aquatic therapy or therapeutic listening.

Cox’s work is defi ned by a strong sense of playfulness. Rather than treat her clients within the confines of a stuffy office building, she has chosen a far more relaxed and naturalistic setting: a barn.

“I strongly felt that since Jesus was born in a barn, it would be a perfect place to work with our clients,” she said. Of course, no barn would be complete without animals. DreamCatchers houses many animal friends but utilizes horses for a unique purpose.

DreamCatchers specializes in hippotherapy, a treatment that uses the movement of the horse as a tool to address physical impairments, muscular dysfunction and cognitive delays.

“Using the horse as a treatment tool has a dynamic three dimensional effect that cannot be duplicated by any piece of traditional therapy equipment,” Cox said. “The natural gait of the horse closely simulates the movement of the human pelvis while walking. This movement, coupled with the warmth generated by the horse, promotes numerous gains in therapy.”

Horses have been used as therapeutic aids for thousands of years across various cultures. Because of their intelligence, strength and patience, horses work extremely well with children. “Horses help disguise learning into fun,” Cox said. “Often, children will relate to animals better than people. [They] do not have to worry about verbal communication; it’s more about body language in an environment that is safe and supportive. It is difficult to think and ‘work’ if you are anxious. Just listen to the Lord and ‘Lay down in green pastures.’”

In addition to horses, DreamCatchers incorporates other elements of play. On site, children can frolic through hay mazes, explore obstacle courses, climb textured walls, and dive into giant ball pits—all while cultivating the skills they will need for future development and success.

DreamCatchers strives to maintain a family-friendly environment. As Cox explained, “We do not just work with the special needs child. We are working with their entire family to empower [the family’s] sense of competency to interact and care for the child’s unique needs and abilities.”

Interestingly, special needs children aren’t the only ones who benefit from occupational therapy. Cox also occasionally works with gifted children.

“I have often seen that what ‘gifted’ children may be able to conceptualize, they may not always be able emotionally/socially manage,” she said. “They may be able to concentrate well on something that interests them, or on material that is fast-paced [or] highly rewarding, but they cannot focus well on material that is less interesting but [necessary] to learn a skill or produce a specifi c task.”

Cox’s favorite part of her job is seeing the children smile whenever they learn a new skill. And of course, working with majestic horses on a lush, green farm is also a plus!

“I am blessed to work with children in a naturalistic setting,” she said. “This approach results in improved behavior, social interactions, and learning, which can be transferred over into the home, school, and community more efficiently and effectively—all while our farm friends can watch.”

Cox also feels blessed to have found what she believes is her professional calling. “Through faith and passion felt from my childhood, I have been driven straight by ‘God’s radar’ towards working with children and animals,” she said. “It’s been an emotional fuel that I couldn’t deny.

It’s not a perfect story, but looking back, I can see God perfectly orchestrating every failure and milestone into a song of daily surrender and joy.”

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