If you ask Erika Larson what her title is at LEEP, she will tell you she’s the Program Director and Parent Liaison, but once she’s got the formalities out of the way, she’ll slyly smile and say, “But really, I like to think my title is ‘Problem Solver’.” Erika, who has a Masters in Education and is a credentialed Developmental Therapist, hits the nail on the head with that description. No matter what time of day you run into her, she’s in the process of helping someone find a solution, whether it’s for one of parents or a staff member. She explains, “There’s really no question that’s too big or too small, and certainly none of them are silly. I love to help connect people with the information they need to take the next steps.”
Erika’s mission is to empower parents through education so they can to be as comfortable as our trained therapists are, bringing about a rich, rewarding, and reciprocal relationship between themselves and their children. She does this in a number of ways including:
I. Helping parents find big picture solutions
Before becoming LEEP Forward’s resident problem solver, Erika spent most of her professional career doing home visits, which gives her a unique perspective when helping parents find workable solutions.
“Many private practice clinicians have a limited view of things because they only see children in a clinic. My whole career was spent in kid’s natural environments – it brings a whole different perspective on what solutions actually work. Not only that, but becoming a parent myself changed what kind of solutions I offer. I think back on suggestions I made years ago and laugh – they were so impractical.”
Although she no longer does home visits, that wealth of experience influences her interactions as she helps LEEP parents make long-term plans. Many parents come to her for advice on what the next steps should be with their child, whether that’s preparing them for school, making a therapeutic treatment plan with related services, or simply brainstorming plans for address troubles around bedtime and toilet training.
She is also knowledgeable about the local school system and can evaluate what type of environment and supports are needed for a student to flourish in school.
Once the child is admitted and active, she can set new goals, communicate with teachers, connect children with classroom aides, and evaluate their progress.
II. Leading complimentary DIR Floortime sessions and parent trainings
“One of the most effective ways we learn is through example. That’s why each year the LEEPparents get a complimentary Floortime session with me. It’s a time to teach parents to think like our therapists, empowering them by providing them with the skills they desire. Sometimes parents prefer that I sit back and watch and others like when I lead and they can watch. It’s whatever they want, but it’s incredibly valuable.”
Erika also heads up our parents trainings. In October we had our first parent training: DIR 101. “We’re always open to suggestions for future talks and would like to cater to your needs. Don’t be afraid. If it’s a problem you’re having, it’s probably a problem other parents are having.” If you have suggestions for discussion, email Erika@leepforward.com.
III. Case management
New this year is the case management aspect of her job. Essentially she becomes the point person for a child’s big picture treatment plan. This is perfect for children who are seeing a number of different therapists; she ensures the social worker, the speech therapist, and occupational therapist are all working together and sharing information. Having consistency across all fields can be key to helping a child stay on track to achieve his or her goals.
Empowering LEEP staff with critical feedback
It’s not only parents that Erika coaches; she also works closely with the LEEP staff, leading educational sessions and fostering discussions. Erika dedicates a portion of each day to spending time in the preschool groups, helping the staff in the moment, providing recommendations and modeling responses and behaviors. Our leads and support staff also have opportunities for “reflective supervision”, a chance to meet one-on-one and exchange ideas so they can grow in their practice of the DIR model. Another way Erika reaches the staff is by leading a weekly lunch-n-learn where the staff gets together to discuss issues and brainstorm solutions as a group.
If you’d like to set up a time to meet with Erika about anything, please don’t hesitate to reach out to her at Erika@leepforward.com. She’s a valuable part of our team and is capable of making a significant impact as a part of your child’s team.