SenseAbilities: Offering crucial support for special needs families since 2012Jun 10, 2020 03:21PM ● By Traci Burns
In August 2012, three friends made a leap of faith and started SenseAbilities, a pediatric therapy clinic that has grown to be a beacon of encouragement, help and support for more than1,000 special needs children and their families in Houston County and the surrounding area.
Robin Bray, Lisa Hall and Kristi Rigdon had bonded because of some intense similarities: They all taught in special education classes and they all had special needs children of their own who required some combination of different therapies to help them thrive.
These included occupational therapy to help with sensory issues and functional life skills, speech therapy for communication challenges and physical therapy for developing strength and movement. But Warner Robins didn’t have a comprehensive center that offered those therapies.
“I was having to take off work every Wednesday to drive my son to Perry for one therapy, and to Macon for another,” says Kristi. “I was losing pay, and he was missing so much school. Something had to give.”
Though none of the three moms were especially well-versed in business matters, they felt compelled to step up to meet the needs of the community they knew so well. So, SenseAbilities opened its doors in 2012 with a small handful of part-time therapists on staff. Within a year, referrals were pouring in.
“We knew this was necessary, but we didn’t know the extent of it,” says Lisa. “We had families who were driving an hour or more from rural areas for services. There’s not a lot available for those families –sometimes not even in those smaller school systems.”
Soon, SenseAbilities had added so many new therapists and patients that they outgrew their initial office-complex location–even after expanding to include a second office space next door.“
I was in my small group at church, and asked them to put on the prayer list that we needed a new building, because we really had no idea what we were going to do,” says Kristi.
That same day, a member of her small group took her aside to tell her about a new freestanding building he’d just purchased. He’d intended it to be his office, but after hearing Kristi’s prayer request, he knew its true purpose.
“He was in there gutting it and designing it before we knew what was happening,” Kristi says with a laugh. “It was like he knew it was meant to be.”
In 2014, SenseAbilities moved to its current location, 905 Arrowhead Trail in Warner Robins, where they were able to add more therapy rooms, an occupational therapy gym and a physical therapy gym. They’ve been growing steadily ever since, even though they’ve never advertised.
“We’ve gotten this big just based on word of mouth from doctors, teachers and the community,” says Lisa, adding that they now have more than20 therapists on staff to serve 1,000 children and their families.
Providing a nurturing, caring environment for children and parents alike has been their biggest goal, and according to area families, they’ve always gone above and beyond. Ann Gilleland’s son, Garrett, has occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy at SenseAbilities.
“He loves it there,” Ann says. “The office staff is very pleasant and friendly. He loves his therapists and is always excited to see them. He usually can’t wait to get started, and is running to his therapists’ door when we first arrive. The therapists are hands-on with him and encourage and praise him for his efforts. They’re always trying new things with him in clinic or making suggestions that we can do at home. We’ve been very pleased with them!”
In addition to providing a one-stop shop for pediatric therapy, SenseAbilities also prides itself on offering other much-needed support for the local special-needs community.
“A lot of families –especially military families in the area –don’t have extended family nearby, or don’t have anyone they feel comfortable leaving their children with,” says Lisa.
Once a month, SenseAbilities offers Parents’ Night Out, where for a small fee, parents can leave their children (clients of SenseAbilities and their siblings) in the capable hands of therapists and other volunteers while going out to enjoy a stress-free meal, pedicure or some other self-care.
Every holiday season, SenseAbilities offers a Breakfast with Santa for clients and their families, and every summer they offer a variety of summer camps geared toward special needs children. Last summer’s themes included art, music, robotics, sensory and social.
They participate in the Down Syndrome Buddy Walk each year, offer several sessions of handwriting workshops per year, and recently have teamed up with Mercer University in Macon for the Go Baby Go program. In this program, engineering students from Mercer modify battery-powered toy cars to fit the specific needs of children with limited mobility and other issues.
Navigating the sea of paperwork necessary for insurance, Social Security and other purposes can be daunting for a special-needs family, so SenseAbilities is happy to lend a helping hand with that –just ask. And in order to meet more of the needs of people in our area, they now have two fluent Spanish-speakers on staff –one member of the office staff and one speech therapist.
“My eyes have really been opened to the growing number of kids with special needs,” says Lisa. “We’re always trying to figure out the best ways to support our clients and our community.”
“On any given day, if you go sit in our waiting room and listen to the parents talking to each other, it’s like a therapy session,” says Kristi. “And I love that. We parents need that. It makes you feel okay, like other people have bad days, too. There’s no judgment, just support. And that’s the reason we’re here. This is our happy place. We love being here. It makes you feel good to know you’re helping somebody.”
905 Arrowhead Trail
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-7:00 p.m. Monday-Friday