Healey Miller, MSOT ‘21, ‘23OTD, focuses on people. But after coming out of Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she was wondering what career path she was going to take.
Healey MillerShe recalled during her undergraduate experience that a woman who spoke in one of her classes was training to be an occupational therapist (OT).
"She described it, but I had actually never heard of it. I was like, wow, that seems like a profession that would be super flexible and allow me to be creative. I could do so many different things with it,” said Miller. “No matter what path I chose, I wanted it to be people-focused and OT was perfect.”
Originally from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Miller decided to attend Salus University to pursue OT as her career. She wanted to be closer to home after being in Missouri for her undergraduate education. Once she completed her training at Salus — which she called “comfortable” and “a really good fit” for her — she took a school-based, travel OT position upon completion of the program and landed in Washington state in September 2021.
The school district has given her the opportunity to conduct a human subjects research study about integrating primitive reflexes in the preschool population, specifically the tonic labyrinthine reflex (TLR).
Healey Miller and dog in the woodsAccording to Miller, we all have primitive reflexes when we are born. These reflexes should integrate — or disappear — with normal development as an infant matures. The TLR is activated with either a neck flexion (lowering one’s chin down to the chest) or extension (raising the chin to look toward to ceiling).
"So, when an infant looks down with that neck flexion, it causes his/her arms and legs to curl up and when he/she looks all the way back, it causes his/her arms to extend and sprawl out,” said Miller. "It helps an infant learn all about gravity, but eventually as he/she matures and the normal development process happens, it integrates and allows for more mature movement patterns to take place.”
But in some children, that reflex doesn’t integrate and gets in the way of development. Miller’s study will look at a reflex program called the Move, Play, Thrive program, written by Sonia Story. The research project looks at whether the exercises in Story’s program help integrate the TLR. In addition, Miller will look to see if Story’s protocol improves other skills such as balance and coordination in addition to fine motor and visual motor skills.
The bonus is that Story lives in the area where Miller is conducting the study.
Healey Miller scuba diving“It’s really cool that not only am I doing research within a preschool, which is scary and exciting, but I’m working alongside the creator of the program, who has agreed to be a content expert and mentor,” said Miller. “I was able to contact her and she was really excited about my study, so she has been able to provide me with a lot of additional information and training to help me along.”
At this point, Miller prefers working in schools as a travel OT. Most travel contracts are for three months, but school-based contracts last the entire school year, so Miller gets the benefit of living in a particular place for a while longer than usual.
“I just want to take travel OT as an opportunity to live and work in different places because it’s one thing to travel to a place, but it’s another to be able to live in each place for a certain amount of time,” she said. “I get to live in a place for a whole year, so it’s super-exciting to be able to really experience each place while I’m there.”
Once this contract is up, Miller is unsure where she will go to next, but has an eye on possibly someplace in Colorado or Utah. When she’s not being an OT, Miller likes to mountain bike, ski and scuba dive. She hopes to complete her doctorate in the spring of 2023.