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This OT Researcher Takes Children's Playtime Seriously

Dr. Amiya Waldman-Levi, an associate clinical professor in the Katz School's OT doctorate program.

By Dave DeFusco

The amount of playtime that children get during a school day has been an ever-present concern among parents, educators and public health officials. Parents who grew up outside worry that their children are missing out on something special and important to their lives. Educators fret that play, an essential part of learning, is being squeezed out by academic programming. And public health officials warn of the health consequences for young people who are deprived of exercise.

“The engagement in play and playful interactions is essential to children’s development, as well as physical and mental health,” said Dr. Amiya Waldman-Levi, a clinical associate professor in the Katz School’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate program.

A training program proposed by Dr. Waldman-Levi and Dr. Lola Halperin of Sacred Heart University in Bridgeport, Conn., will prepare teachers serving children who are facing adversity to use play and playfulness as vehicles for fostering children’s growth, with the long-term goal of promoting occupational justice.

Children from low-income families exposed to maltreatment, poverty and domestic violence are more at risk of developmental delays in areas of play, academics and relationships, and prone to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Drs. Waldman-Levi and Halperin based their program on previous research by the Family Intervention of Improving Occupational Performance that aims to foster children’s engagement in joint play and their overall development. Dr. Waldman-Levi said the training program addresses child-adult interaction and reciprocity, playfulness and play skills through mediation, modeling, consultation, environmental organization, adaptation, reframing, enabling and reflection provided by a therapist.

Their recently conducted feasibility study involving a virtual group-teacher training was supported by the Richard and Barbara Naclerio Faculty Scholars Program at Sacred Heart University. Group-based interventions, said Dr. Waldman-Levi, serve as powerful vehicles to enhancing participants’ insight and emotional well-being. Moreover, telehealth is being increasingly used in OT practice to improve access to services.

In addition to the training program, Dr. Waldman-Levi is engaged in research on “Healthy Aging: A Wellness Intervention Program” in collaboration with Dr. Jeanine Stancanelli, an associate professor and occupational therapist at Mercy College. The creation of the intervention was initially funded through a Mercy College faculty development grant that supported the piloting of the evidence-based wellness program for older adults.

This spring, Dr. Waldman-Levi and her colleague will examine the feasibility of the newly developed health-promotion intervention program for community-dwelling, healthy adults 65 and older. This program will be facilitated via telehealth and will combine yoga, hope theory, resilience and coping to support physical, mental and emotional aging in place.

“The common thread in my research projects is developing occupation- and client-centered assessment and interventions that are feasible and accessible to clients and clinicians,” said Dr. Waldman-Levi. “At the Katz School, I’m looking forward to implementing new technological applications to leverage delivery and accessibility of health care. I’m also looking forward to creating sustainable inter-professional collaborations, as well as engaging students from different programs and degree levels in translational and clinical research.”