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Meet Cynthia Pepper of The tot OT in Fort Lauderdale/ North Miami

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cynthia Pepper.

Cynthia, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
It was a series of crooked paths for me and for a long time, I was not sure how all the pieces connected. I have always loved working with children and it has been an enduring passion. But, I did not know where my niche was. Before becoming an occupational therapist, I was a teacher and researcher. I taught here in the States and abroad in Ecuador, the Czech Republic and China; I also studied in England and France. What fascinated me was observing children and families in all of these different places. I gleaned a lot of insight into universals and differences in childrearing, feeding, schooling, socializing and play. I also saw many children who struggled with the most important and meaningful yet mundane parts of life – things we as adults take for granted or do not know really how to “teach”; I wanted to help them. That is what ultimately drew me to become a pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT). Very few people know what we do and frankly, I did not really know what OTs did until I pursued it myself. I get a lot people asking, “So you find jobs for children or help children with jobs?”. But we define “occupation” differently. From an OT’s perspective, an occupation is something that is meaningful and critical to one’s daily life. Children’s occupations are such things as eating, dressing and socializing and their primary occupation is play. How do you teach a child to play? How do you teach a child to eat? Pediatric OTs are responsible for teaching these fundamental skills and for helping children participate in their world. My job is to help kids learn to be kids and parents to be parents; it is awesome!

I took a special interest in feeding, because I encountered so many new and veteran parents, even among my own peer group, who were struggling with this and who had no idea where to turn. When feeding a child is difficult, it makes every day a battle and completely colors family life. It is also an area where there are very few known resources, and parents often feel stranded in a boat alone while trying to keep their young children healthy. I pursued additional training as an OT to also become a feeding therapist to reach these parents. Feeding therapy is messy and fun, and it is amazingly rewarding to see children learn to eat. We do not often think of it as a learned skill but just as reading or swimming gets taught and takes a lot of practice, eating is a very complex process – arguably the most complex activity from a sensory and motor perspective that we need to do. However, in this country, we do not provide coordinated guidance on how to teach this extraordinarily difficult occupation to our children and many parents are floundering.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Moving to Florida in 2016 was a big adjustment for me. I had lived in the Boston area, which is an entirely different ecosystem than South Florida. Developing a business while also navigating new medical, social and education systems as well as different policies was a challenge. In addition, I left my social and professional networks in Massachusetts, so it has taken some time to acclimate and to make connections in the community. I am working on my Spanish to be able to reach more families but it is coming along slowly. I am very envious of the little children I work with who are bilingual and trilingual; it is so much easier to learn at a young age!

So, as you know, we’re impressed with The tot OT – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
My business provides occupational and feeding therapy as well as more generalized parent support in the home targeted for infants and children 0-7 years old. Many parents find themselves struggling with a stage, an activity or a child-specific issue and do not know where to turn. Sometimes, they do not even know what the problem is or what questions to ask but something is amiss. I specialize in helping to figure out these puzzles and providing intervention to address them. I have a vast professional and educational background that spans child development, education, feeding and occupational therapy and affords me unique perspective and expertise. I provide real-time strategies for parents and children. Often, only one or two consultations are necessary to affect real change. I offer weekday, evening and weekend times that allow me to be there when a parent needs me most. For example, if dinner or bath-time is the biggest struggle, I can come during those specific times, so I can gather the most useful information and provide the most effective strategies to meet the needs of the individual child and family.

I also love teaching and seek out opportunities for community outreach. For example, I attend monthly brunches with a local moms’ group and their babies where we discuss feeding issues over breakfast; it is as much a valuable resource to me as it is to them. I am always interested in collaborating on a community project, event or training.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
I recently did a professional development workshop for infant, preschool and kindergarten teachers at a local school about children’s sensory development and it reminded me how much I enjoy teaching. I plan to do more outreach to professionals working with children including teachers and doctors in addition to parent workshops. Especially with feeding, a more coordinated effort and initiative is needed and I continue to look for ways to contribute to more lasting change. I plan to write more articles to reach parents and practitioners on a wider scale.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.thetotot.com
  • Phone: 754-300-8687
  • Email: cynthia@thetotot.com
  • Facebook: @thetotot
  • Twitter: Cynthia@_TheTotOT

Getting in touch: VoyageMIA is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

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