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By Kali Henderson, Happiness Therapy Center

What is the mission of Happiness Therapy Center [HTC] and what services do you provide?
Happiness Therapy Center is dedicated to providing services to kids with special needs through occupational therapy, social skills groups, “rainbow therapy”, in school support and at home support. We specialize in working with children who have autism, but we have found that the biggest need right now is working with schools and parents to provide support services for children with disabilities and students who are twice exceptional. Happiness Therapy Center’s mission is not only to help children with special needs but also to provide parent support.

We offer services to private schools in the Denver area to help support struggling students. We provide observations, recommendations, in class support, and parent/teacher educational seminars. Clients and students visit our Denver office outside of school hours for evaluations and weekly occupational therapy sessions. Social skills groups are held on the weekends where students who struggle with social interactions can make friends and practice social skills in a structured, safe and comfortable environment. We believe that children make optimal growth when evaluations and treatments are child-centered, collaborative, and holistic. We focus on treating the whole child and that’s why we partner with other businesses in the Denver area. HTC partners with Sacred Roots LLC for our “rainbow services” where children and families can receive nutritional support, intuitive readings and healing sessions from a Certified Clinical Herbalist and Nutritionist and Certified Medical Intuitive. Our partnership with Grace Malas allows us to offer crystal therapy and malas for clients and families. For families who need academic therapy we refer to Blossoming Minds Therapy.

We talked a bit about twice exceptional…can you explain what this means and what you are seeing in schools?
Students who are twice exceptional are those who are highly gifted academically and meet the standards for gifted and Talented programs, but also present with a neurodivergent disability: Attention Deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), Autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, sensory processing disorder or any other hallmark of neurodiversity. This means that while twice exceptional students have the same high achieving abilities, they also present with one or more disability.

These disabilities show up in many different ways and sometimes go unnoticed. Teachers may label students as “lazy” or having “behavior issues” but the truth is they are struggling with something nobody can see. We partner with private schools in the Denver area to provide support to the administration, teachers, parents and students. We have found that many students who are highly gifted also have disabilities that are impeding their learning and many private schools are unable to provide the supports needed for these children to achieve academic success. Our mission is to help neurodiverse learners grow in to the bright individuals they are.

Twice exceptional students look different in each classroom. In one of the Denver private schools we partner with we see an equal split in the upper grades. It is an equal split of highly gifted students and those who are highly gifted who also have a specific learning disability and need academic support in one or more areas. Behavior doesn’t seem to be a factor but most children in this program need additional academic support. An example of this would be if a student excelled in math but also had a specific reading disability. The math alone is easy and enjoyable, but as soon as the teacher adds a word problem or hands the students a written math worksheet with reading involved the student is no longer able to do the math because he is unable to read. Teachers accommodate this student by providing reading support and read the assignment to him.

At the same school, in the lower grades, we are seeing more gifted students diagnosed with ADHD who need a lot of sensory support. Sensory Processing Disorder is the inability to respond appropriately to ordinary experiences when the central nervous system (CNS) processes sensations inefficiently. When a student’s CNS feels organized he/she is able to attend to tasks and perform daily activities better. When the CNS is not organized the student has an extremely difficult time processing information sufficiently. An example of this would be if a student excelled in math but also had ADHD and/or Sensory Processing Disorder. The student could read all the information and do the math with ease but is unable to control his/her body and stay seated throughout the lesson. He/she may tend to run into peers and bump into walls, fall out of chairs and bite their pencil. Teachers and specialists provide support by giving that student sensory input throughout the day, sensory breaks, a bouncy ball to sit on and a toy he/she can chew. Ongoing support may be needed to regulate the sensory and behavior needs of that student, but once the CNS is regulated the student is able to excel in school like the other gifted students.

What inspired you to open HTC?
Long story short, I was diagnosed with a learning disability and ADD, as an elementary student at a time when teachers and schools knew very little about how to help neurodiverse students succeed. I have always known that helping children was my purpose on this earth, and especially those with disabilities because I understand these students on a personal level. I understand the struggle and the difficulties because I’ve experienced a lot of them, and I want to help neurodiverse students understand their strengths and how capable they are of doing anything they want. I have a background in speech therapy and a master’s in special education and throughout my years in schools and private practices I’ve seen a lot of different ways professionals try to help students. I think that working in a private practice solidified my decision that I had to do something different and start my own business using my expertise. I love working with student who have disabilities and I believe we are making a difference. I entered the field with a loving heart to serve others and it has manifested into something that I have always wanted to do.

As a mom, what do wish you would have known?
As a mom I wish I knew what I know now. That every person, whether they have sensory processing disorder or not has some sensory sensitivity. I think we can all identify within ourselves what irritates us or sends us over the edge: loud music, the sound of chewing food, bright or flashing lights, the overly perfumed office or home etc. I wish I knew the signs to look for with my son and I wish I knew his tantrums were sensory overload. Once I took him to receive occupational therapy and gave him the resources he needed in the classroom, like a weighted vest, he was able to better regulate himself and his emotions.

Some children’s nervous systems are wired so that they do not efficiently process sensory input, and sometimes it is a slight sensitivity that won’t impede learning or daily living. Sometimes issues are more serious, and this can contribute to behavioral and emotional problems and may be reported as having certain obsessions, not responding appropriately to everyday situations and having difficulty with transitions.

I also wish I knew the signs to look out for to know if sensory processing was an issue. Many children seem to be attached to a parent and have separation anxiety or need to sleep on or with them each night, compression to soothe, big hugs throughout the day and other indicators that the child needs more sensory input. At the end of the day parents do a lot and they shouldn’t also need to be experts in every field in order to get their child the support they need. That’s why Happiness Therapy Center was created and that is why one of our main missions is not only to help children with special needs but also support the family.