Dale Ellenberg is seen in her Occupational Therapy studio, where she uses suspension equipment, balls, toys and games to help children with a variety of sensory processing disorders. (Photo by Paula M. Riley)

by Barbara Sherf

Mt. Airy native Dale Ellenberg makes her living playing in her Chestnut Hill office and beyond. Practicing the art and science of occupational therapy for over 25 years, Ellenberg’s office is located upstairs from Ten Thousand Villages at 8331 Germantown Ave., next to O’Doodles Toy Store.

In her second floor space, one will find a colorful office, an area set up like a gym with a large padded mat on the floor under swings, and a host of toys, exercise balls, stuffed animals and games. She also has a small kitchenette in one corner to help children and adolescents navigate food preparation techniques during her cooking groups.

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, in its simplest terms occupational therapists help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday occupations. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injuries to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.

For example, Ellenberg recently spoke on “The Signs and Symptoms of the Autism Spectrum Disorder” in Chestnut Hill at the Center on the Hill. Sitting in her colorful offices, Ellenberg talked about the varied reactions parents may have when their child receives a diagnosis of autism.

“Many have had suspicions and have tried for months or years to get an accurate diagnosis,” said Ellenberg. “Some families don’t seek a diagnosis, preferring to treat  symptoms and behaviors in an attempt to avoid their child becoming labeled.” Among the tools in her arsenal, Ellenberg is certified in the Interactive Metronome (IM), a screening and treatment tool for all ages in her practice. Developed in the early 1990s, the IM is a laptop-like device with headsets that challenges the client to match a computer-generated beat. Participants are instructed to synchronize various hand and foot exercises to a reference tone heard through headphones. According to Ellenberg, the client attempts to match the rhythmic beat with repetitive motor actions such as tapping his/her toes on a floor sensor mat or hand clapping while wearing an IM glove with a palm trigger.

According to a brochure published by the manufacturer, a patented audio or audio/visual guidance system provides immediate feedback. The difference between the client’s performance and the computer-generated beat is measured in milliseconds. The score provided indicates timing accuracy.

The device is effective in the treatment and intervention of such diagnoses as Dyspraxia, Sensory Processing Disorder, fine, visual and gross motor deficits, Cerebral Palsy, Parkinson’s Disease, gait and balance disorders, Executive Functioning Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and the continuum of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, just to name a few. It is also an intervention tool for musicians and athletes looking to fine-tune their timing and coordination skills, especially after periods of inactivity or non-participation.

One of Ellenberg’s signature programs is her Social Skills Cooking Club. The club meets twice a week (Saturday lunch club or evening dinner club) and is designed to help each group member achieve social competence in recognizing and expressing emotions, developing appropriate communication and social skills while fine tuning their motor planning and fine/visual motor skills.

“We work on concrete skills, like preparing the food, to abstract concepts, like meal planning, job delineation and team building. We also work on socially acceptable behavior, like not diving into the food until everyone is at the table and everyone is served.”

While Ellenberg’s recent talk was on autism, with parents sharing the journey they traveled in getting a diagnosis for their children, she also works with clients on a wide range of disorders. Elllenberg has a Bachelor’s degree from Temple University in art history and sociology. She then received a post-graduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Occupational Therapy, and she obtained a Master’s in Human Organizational Science at Villanova University. She worked in the Philadelphia School District for nearly nine years, developed the Integrated Occupational Therapy program at The Quaker School at Horsham, and opened a private practice on the side. She now works two days a week in the Haverford School District, while continuing to see private clients in her Chestnut Hill practice, which was opened on Sept. 14 of last year.

For more information, you can reach Ellenberg at www.daleellenberg.com or 215-247-4294.