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Exceptional children, exceptional therapist: Davis honored with award at state conference

Wilson Daily Times - 12/8/2018

Dec. 08--Jeremiah Bynum-Taylor beams when he is around Helen Davis.

Davis, physical therapist for the exceptional children department at Wilson County Schools, recently received the Educator of Excellence Award for Wilson County at the 2018 Exceptional Children's Conference in Greensboro.

Davis has been working with Jeremiah, who has cerebral palsy, ever since he was 3 years old.

"I knew from the first day he came in how smart he was. I could just see it in his eyes," said Davis. "He is very bright and is trapped inside his body. You can tell he understands everything so receptively, but expressively, he can't say the things that he needs to say."

Jeremiah is one of 55 exceptional children Davis sees on a weekly or monthly basis at elementary, middle and high schools in Wilson County.

Davis's job is to evaluate children and determine their needs and see how she can help them access their education. Davis also screens children to see if they need to be evaluated. She supervises development of an individual education program for each child and works with a team including teachers and other speech or occupational therapists to help children meet their goals.

"The children need wheelchairs to fit properly in the school system because that is how they are positioned most of the day to learn properly," Davis said.

It's Davis' job to make sure all children have the equipment they need, and that means writing a lengthy letter to Medicaid detailing each child's needs.

"Sometimes I get a child who has no funding," Davis said. "I had a child move in from out of the country with no insurance and no Medicaid, so I kind of pieced together a chair so that he would have something to learn in and be positioned properly."

Davis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina with a bachelor's degree in physical therapy and a master's in public health. She has worked in Wilson County Schools for seven years.

Early intervention, Davis said, is important in the development of motor skills for exceptional children who may have cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, spina bifida, developmental delays because of premature birth or other impairments.

Davis might help a child learn how to best negotiate the stairs if he or she needs to get on and off a school bus, for instance.

"We don't work on making children perfect in the school system because our job is to help them access education. Education is first," Davis said. "I am working to address the physical school system, on and off the bus, playground equipment or PE."

Davis said working with a child over a period of years benefits the child.

"Continuity is good and especially me following the kids, because I see a change when it happens. That is much more comforting for the child," Davis said.

"When they leave one school and go to another, that is hard. There are a lot of new things to learn. I can let the teacher know how the child functioned in their other setting."

Davis said it is important to try to keep things similar and not to let the child regress.

"I had a preschooler who was eating at a table with a bunch of preschoolers together and then when he came to elementary school, he was kind of sitting over there by himself," Davis said.

Davis corrected the situation by seating the child with peers again.

"We need to keep him doing what he was doing and having that social group," Davis said.

Davis believes the children feel secure with her because of the way she is able to handle them and talk to them.

"I hold them in a way that feels secure because they are not in control of their bodies," Davis said. "Our training helps us to know how to handle them and I think that builds trust, especially if they can't talk."

Davis develops good relationships with the children's families and doesn't hesitate to call them when there are issues.

"I am also firm and have a lot of expectations because I do see a lot of children come in who have been babied a lot and have not had expectations," Davis said. "People will tell you that in a heartbeat that I am kind of tough. If I had a child that almost died, I would probably baby them and pamper them too, but once they are stable, it is time to get on with it. You can't be babying them anymore."

Davis said her age and years of experience as a physical therapist helps her a lot.

"I raised four boys. That helped me a lot with the firmness because not every kid is going to do what you ask them to do easily," Davis said.

Davis said she is honored to have been recognized, but it is a team approach in the exceptional children department at Wilson County Schools.

"I am the only PT, but I have a physical therapist assistant that helps me, Donna Howell," Davis said. "She makes it possible for me to cover the county."

Davis is a good teacher, Howell said.

"When I first started, I didn't have a lot of pediatric experience," Howell said. "She showed me the things I needed to know to be better."

Davis said WCS has a great exceptional children's program.

"It's a challenge," she said, "but we do the best with what we have."


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