Sometimes a smile from a child is all you’re looking for to know you’ve made a difference. Harris County Department of Education occupational therapist and Horizon Award winner Adele Brunson knows that to be true daily as she works with children with physical challenges in the school environment.
Brunson, who joined HCDE’s School-Based Therapy Services in 2018-2019, earned the Horizon Award from the Texas Occupational Therapy Association. The state award recognizes a new occupational therapist who has five years or less of experience in the field.
“The Horizon Award is meaningful to me in allowing me to feel that my love and passion for occupational therapy, through deed and word, is reaching and inspiring others,” said Brunson. “Occupational therapy enables people to live their best life–to its fullest–by giving people of all ages back their independence.”
Over 100 school-based occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants work for HCDE and provide occupational services in 28 school districts and charter schools in greater Harris County. They help children to fulfill their role as students by supporting their academic achievement and promoting positive behaviors necessary for learning.
Occupational therapists and occupational therapist assistants support academic and non-academic outcomes, including social skills, math, reading and writing, behavior management, recess, participation in sports, self-help skills, prevocational/vocational participation, transportation and more.
Brunson works for HCDE and services he Katy Independent School District at elementary, junior and high schools through a partnership that HCDE has with the district.
As an example of the impact she makes with children, she remembers the student with cerebral palsy she was helping with handwriting. The little girl was who was right-handed was forced to learn to write left-handed because her cerebral palsy had affected the control of her right hand.
“She told me that she did not like being left-handed because it made her stand out and be different from all her other classmates,” Brunson said.
Brunson is left-handed herself and told the little girl during her evaluation that left-handed people were awesome, creative and fun.
“At the end of the school day, she came up to me, smiled, giggled and told me that she felt so cool to be left-handed,” Brunson said. “To me, seeing her smile so big was the greatest gift that day.”
After spending several years as a teacher, Brunson decided to return to school to become an occupational therapist. She wanted to make an impact through occupational therapy with children in the school setting.
“Children are honest and have a genuine thirst to grow,” she said. “I wanted to be involved in supporting their growth in accessing their education to the fullest.”
Brunson urges fellow occupational therapists to join professional organizations to keep up-to-date on research and topics that affect the profession, including legislation.
She has worked the past four years on a project with the Texas Occupational Therapy Emerging Leaders Mentoring Program. The program allows occupational therapist newcomers to become involved and assume leadership in the profession. She also serves as secretary on the board of directors for the Texas Occupational Therapy Association.
HCDE School-Based Therapy Services Director Carie Crabb says through the Horizon Award, the Texas Occupational Therapy Association recognizes several outstanding qualities in the awardee. Among those are community involvement; leadership in a professional organization; and advocating for the profession.
“It’s especially meaningful to honor Adele during National Occupational Therapist Month,” said Crabb.