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Anaheim Hills Pediatric Therapy—Creating Lifelong Connections for Children

The special bond between children and animals helps families at this innovative, child-focused facility.

There’s something special about the bond between children and animals. At Anaheim Hills Pediatric Therapy, the leading center of its kind in Orange County, that connection is utilized to serve families with compassion, creativity, and fun in a child-focused environment.

“There’s an unspoken language between them,” explains Clinic Director Emily Frevert. “Children often feel safe and bonded to an animal when having that same feeling towards an adult can be challenging. Dogs specifically, but other animals, too, often express empathy and caring towards children. Dogs are the perfect definition of unconditional love. For many people, an animal is a person’s best friend and companion.”

A range of services are offered to children and their families at AHPT, including physical, occupational, and speech therapy.

To make children feel more comfortable while receiving services, a host of animals are onsite to engage with them. Dogs, cats, bunnies, chickens, and even a bearded dragon, named Eliza, have become familiar faces to families over the years.

“Physical therapy is needed when a child is behind on typical gross motor milestones such as sitting up, crawling, walking, etc.,” explains Emily. “Occupational therapy is needed when a child has difficulty with fine motor milestones such as finger or utensil feeding, dressing themselves, doesn’t like having their teeth/hair brushed, can’t regulate their sensory systems to participate in community or home activities, or is a picky eater. Speech therapy is needed when a child isn’t developing appropriate milestones for understanding language when spoken to or expressing language to communicate needs.”

With seven years at her Anaheim Hills Pediatric Therapy Clinic and with 23 years of experience in pediatric therapy, Emily and her team’s expertise includes extensive knowledge of child development, sensory integration, learning disabilities, and physical disabilities, as well as an understanding of the importance of including the whole family into building upon a child’s success.

Emily’s personal experience growing up on a farm surrounded by animals, and later as a mother to children with special needs, also helped shape her vision.  

“I’ve been to many clinics across several states as both a parent and therapist. My focus is always on creating an environment that helps not just the child, but on making the parents and siblings feel welcome, trusting, and confident that this is a place to grow the child and families’ needs,” she says.

Her well-rounded experience as a therapist and mother also enhances her ability to connect with patients in an authentic way, which includes adding animals to the mix.

“Often, children with autism have too much empathy, and they don’t know how to understand it. They can be overly concerned about what other children are doing, and that can greatly interfere with their social-emotional development. I see a strong relationship with animals when I meet a child who cares so incredibly much. Animals allow an avenue to place that feeling. It’s such a relief and reward for both child and animal to share in that experience.”

Despite navigating challenges throughout her journey as a mother, therapist, and entrepreneur, Emily couldn’t be happier with where Anaheim Hills Pediatric Therapy is headed.

“Our BUG Buddies non-profit is where I really see us growing. I homeschooled my children from kindergarten to 12th grade, and that inspired me to provide alternative education opportunities in our community. We have several types of classes, most specifically a preschool program for kids that might not be accepted into community preschools due to behaviors, sensory issues, or complex medical issues,” she says.

“Our classes are facilitated by licensed Physical Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and Speech Therapists with a strong background in development and intervention, equipping them to provide an amazing experience for our BUG (Building an Understand of Growing) Buddies.”

The future is decidedly bright for AHPT, the families they serve, and, of course, their resident animal crew—a critical piece of the pediatric therapy puzzle—and Emily wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Having animals in the clinic is never a dull experience. There’s always a child who bonds immediately, and always a parent who surprises themselves by touching, petting, or enjoying being around the animal when normally they do not. There’s never a shortage of animals that need love, and at the same time, never a shortage of children that need that same affection. Bringing them together only makes sense, and it’s so rewarding when you facilitate a relationship that otherwise wouldn’t have been created.”

 “For many people, an animal is a person’s best friend and companion.” -Anaheim Hills Pediatric Therapy Clinic Director Emily Frevert.