Amanda Houdek, founder and owner of CI Pediatric Therapy Centers, remembers the moment she got the idea to open her company. She had never planned to open a business.
However, one day she was working in pri- vate practice and received a phone call. On the other end of the line was a parent of a child with Down syndrome looking for therapeutic support.
The staff member taking the call covered the phone and said, “I don’t think this patient is a good fit.” Anger came over Houdek, but so did a vision to make things better. “No family should ever have that feeling,” Houdek said. “So, I decided to open this practice so families had a place where no one would ever say no.”
Houdek opened the f irst location in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, in 2006 and acknowl- edged that business “grew slowly in the begin- ning.” She had ideas of what to offer, but they didn’t seem to catch on like she hoped.
“Then, I began listening to parents more and focused on the services that they wanted,” she said. “Once we did that, we became success- ful.”
In 2013, she opened her second location and four other locations in the Madison area soon followed. “Once we got full support from fam-
ilies, doctors, and insurance companies, we experienced tons of growth.
“Another thing that is unique about our practice is that we provide everything under one roof,” Houdek said.
Many children have multiple unique needs and Houdek’s staff can provide that support at all their locations. This includes speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, physi- cal therapy, feeding therapy, aquatic therapy, music therapy, and multiple other therapeutic methods. The most important component is that each plan is customized to the meet the unique needs of the child.
“For many families, this was not part of their plan,” she said. “They imagined going to dance or soccer, but that may not be an option. We want to become that social network for them and become their sense of community.”
Lauren Blume, speech and language pathol- ogist and Wausau clinic manager, began work- ing for the company three years ago, rotating between the Madison locations. Last year, she decided to move back to the Wausau area, where she grew up. When she approached Houdek, she was initially sad to see Lauren leave. Then, a lightbulb went off. Houdek, who also grew up and has roots in the Wausau area, saw this as an opportunity to open a location in Wausau.
“I wouldn’t have felt comfortable opening this location if it wasn’t for Lauren,” Houdek said. “She’s a good manager, a good advocate, and she just gets it.”
On Sept. 11, the CI Pediatric Therapy Center opened in Washington Square in down
town Wausau under the leadership of Blume. Blume grew into the career and now loves her position. “I had the opportunity to shadow a speech therapist when I was in high school and thought it was a good fit,” Blume said. “When I found out what I could do to help people, I realized it was actually a perfect fit. My posi- tion here gives me such a wide variety and there is never a dull day. I’m always pushed to learn more and get to work with some awesome kids.”
In a few short months, the Wausau clinic has already connected with several families and has garnered a lot of interest. “We’re proud to be part of the Wausau community and have received so much support by all the businesses and organizations in the area,” Houdek said. “There is just something special here, some- thing exciting and unique, and we look forward
Overall, the company has helped more than 1,200 families. Their goal in Wausau is to get everything established correctly and continue the lesson that Houdek learned in the beginning by listening to the family’s needs.
With that in mind, they plan to continue to grow and expand by offering groups specific to the children coming there now. In addition, they plan to offer several summer groups and even offer free playgroups for children under five years old.
“Our goal is for early intervention, so the students can have a lifetime of suc- cess instead of a lifetime of catching up,” Houdek said. To accomplish that they also offer free screenings to daycare centers and other organizations working with young children.
“The sessions look like play to the children,” Blume said as she discussed their approach to helping the children. “They control the schedule, but we are always working toward their goals. For example, if we’re working with them to generate multiple step instructions, we might build an obstacle course. First, I’ll have them talk through how they plan to do that, step-by-step. Now, we’re working on their verbal skills at the same time they are trying to put the multiple steps of the project together.
“Then, maybe we’ll bring in another child to build the social skills. It all builds on each other. We also encourage the parents to get involved, if they want, but also understand that this can often be their opportunity to get some personal time.”
From the moment parents walk in the door, their goal is to connect with each and learn about their families. Soon, they are talking about dance lessons, basketball games, week- end plans, and learn more about the family dynamics. All of this helps build that connection with the family and create the optimal pro- gram for their child.
“Our goal,” Blume said, “is to think outside the box and we’re always asking ourselves how we can change our approach to meet their needs.”