top of page

Mallory Rosche, OT

Jan 18, 2024

Mallory Rosche is on faculty at Augusta University.  She is the director of the low vision clinic.  In this episode, we focus on her role as director of Steps of Grace.  Steps of Grace is a dance school for kids with special needs.  

Brennan Barber  0:30  

This is Brennan in Bethany with Theralinq podcast. We believe that a strong therapist parent connection is essential for therapy success. Join us each episode as we create a community that demystifies therapists and empowers parents.

Bethany Darragh  0:46  

Today we interview Mallory Rosche. She's on faculty at the occupational therapy school at Augusta University. She's the director of the low vision clinic at the university. And she's also the director of steps of grace, a dance school for children with special needs.  Mallory, thank you so much for being with us. Just to get started, will you please start by telling us about steps of grace.

Mallory Rosche  1:20  

I will thank you so much for having me. So, my name is Mallory Rosche. I'm an occupational therapist. I started steps of grace. 13 years ago, this is our 13th season. So we have adaptive dance classes for children with special needs. So we have a variety of special needs and diagnoses. A variety of ages, we start at age three, and go all the way up to have some children. You know, I call my kids, but they're young adults. Now I had one who turned 21 yesterday, actually. So I have some, you know, teenagers all the way up to early adulthood. We have four different classes, and they are based on age. And so they're each 45 minutes. So we have class on Tuesday afternoon. So we have those four classes. It is just my favorite part of the week is teaching ballet.

Bethany Darragh  2:24  

That's awesome. Are you still treating kids as well?

Mallory Rosche  2:27  

I am not treating kids. So I worked in pediatrics full time for years, and then transitioned over to working as faculty. So I'm on faculty in the Augusta University Occupational Therapy Program full time, I do a little bit of clinical work in low vision, with typically older adults with low vision kind of in my free time, I have steps of grace. 

Bethany Darragh  2:54  

That's awesome. So to the therapists who have dreams of starting something like steps of grace, what advice do you have?

Mallory Rosche  3:02  

Yeah, so I think the hardest part for me, with Steps of Grace was actually getting started. I had these dreams of starting this program, I was a dancer growing up and knew that I wanted to integrate that somehow into my career. And so I kind of thought about it and talked about it. And finally, just bit the bullet and, and started and that was really that initiation was really the hardest part for me, because I was a young therapist, you know, I just graduated from ot school. But I guess my advice would be to use the relationships that you have. So the way we got started was I'm not from Augusta. So I didn't grow up dancing here. But I did teach ballet when I was in OT school for a local dance studio. And so that was my connection. And so when I decided I was going to do this, I knew them. So I just called him up and kind of told him, you know, what I wanted to do. And they were totally on board with me using their studio running space, performing in their recitals, that was key really, was to have that relationship and use that relationship, it to really get started using relationships that I have with other therapists in the area, who would tell their clients, you know, tell their kids and parents about us and refer them over to us for ballet classes. So really just, you know, using those relationships that you have had and have already built has really been key for me. Valerie,

Brennan Barber  4:27  

Do you use your ballet lessons as a platform for integrating therapy or is this Do you see it more as an opportunity for these children to have some time with children like them, you know, build community? Is there a kind of a lens on providing therapy during these sessions as well?

Mallory Rosche  4:51  

Yeah, so it's kind of a balance. I would say the overarching goal is participation in His children being able to participate in this, you know, quote unquote, typical extracurricular activity. And that's, you know, that's what we want them to do. We want them to be able to come after school and I don't literally, it's hard and tights and ballet shoes and go to ballet class just like their peers do you just like maybe they're sisters do we want them to be around other children be able to engage socially, we really want them, you know, their parents to be able to have kind of that, that time out where they can have a little bit of a respite, and make relationships with other parents who are living similar stories. So really, that is, I think, the what I would say the goal is, but ballet is just naturally a therapeutic activity. There's so many skills that the kids work on, they are working on their balance or working on their coordination, their strength, their impulse control, their ability to follow directions, their social interactions. So there's so many things about ballet that are therapeutic, just because of the nature of what it is. But we really try to not focus on you know, that piece of it so much as much as just getting them to be able to participate in this. Absolutely.

Bethany Darragh  6:17  

Do you have kids that use adaptive equipment to participate?

Mallory Rosche  6:21  

I do you know, it kind of ebbs and flows. As far as you know, the diagnoses that I have, and the children that enroll each year, this year, I do have two children. In my youngest class, I think they're like, maybe four and six who are in wheelchairs. And so we kind of do a combination of staying in the wheelchair for portions of the class. If the kids want to get out of their wheelchair and sit on the floor with a buddy, then they can do that, you know, during like circle time. So it depends on, you know, really their preferences and what they want to do.

Brennan Barber  7:04  

You mentioned buddies, I'm curious about staffing. So does each child have, like, a one on one? Is it a volunteer that's with them?

Mallory Rosche  7:11  

Yes. So I have lots of volunteers who, who just want to be involved in steps of grace, though I have kind of an in with a lot of students and someone faculty, and a lot of those girls, I say, girls, we do have guys in our program. So you bet. It's just you know, the majority are women who just have a heart to serve. And a lot of them have dance backgrounds. So I have lots of OT student volunteers. I also have people in the community who maybe they're looking for hours, volunteer hours that they need for a college application, or they want to go to OT school or PT school or speech therapy school. And so they want to volunteer. So yes, we do have lots and lots of helpers. It's not necessarily one on one, I do have some kids who do have, you know, one on one assistance that some kids may not need that level of assistance. And so it could be like a three to one ratio. But yes, that is the only way that I'm able to make this program run successfully is about having extra hands in there.

Brennan Barber  8:20  

Sure. Now, that's amazing. So my son plays soccer for a league, it's called Top Soccer for children with disabilities. And they have a buddy program as well. And it's typically volunteer high school students, or while we did have PT and OT students as well, serving as volunteers. And as a parent, it's just been amazing to watch, like the relationships that develop between the buddies and the children. What we also found too, is that a lot of the times those relationships will then carry over outside of soccer. So, you know, all of a sudden, we now have a pool of potential babysitters.

Mallory Rosche  8:58  

My helpers end up babysitting lots of the children. They have relationships, they are aware of, you know, different abilities. So it's just as convenient all around.

Brennan Barber  9:13  

Yep. I've found to that, you know, even like the younger kids that participate as buddies, the high school kids that are doing it, you know, they're extremely, you know, empathetic and passionate about it, and they bring a fun element to to these games and practices. And, you know, I think that you know, it's really been a win win for all

Mallory Rosche  9:35  

Yes, it's great. Yeah, we couldn't do it without volunteers.

Bethany Darragh  9:40  

So if you don't mind me switching over to your therapy days if you could reach back and remember your pediatric days. I am interested to hear what is a common misconception about therapists that you wish parents understood and and as the Steps of Grace director, you may hear these comments from patients in the waiting room or have a parent saying, you know, frustrated, you know, cost, waiting lists, you know, all these things? You know what, what from a therapist perspective, do you have to speak to that?

Mallory Rosche  10:16  

Yeah, I think that and parents may understand this, but I hope that they understand that like, we really love their children, like we really want the best for them, we want them to live out their fullest potential. I remember, as a therapist, just going home at the end of the day, and like, just constantly thinking about treatment sessions and like, what can I do to, you know, to meet a goal for this child? Or what activity? What can I do that that's going to motivate this child? So I just hope that parents can, you know, really understand that we, you know, there are a lot of things that are challenging, you know, scheduling insurance, like you said, weightless, those kinds of things. At the end of the day, we really do love their children, and are doing everything that we can to meet their goals, and to just help them live to their fullest ability.

Bethany Darragh  11:16  

Are there kids that you find choosing an activity like Steps of Grace in place of therapy? Or do you find a lot of your kids are juggling all of it?

Mallory Rosche  11:28  

I think a lot of them are are doing a lot of it. I have kids who do PT ot speech, and they still come to six degrees. And they'll do like hydrotherapy and adaptive swim. And I'm like, I don't know how you'll have time to do all these things. Like it's a full time job. I do have some kids, especially some of the older ones, who I think have, you know, for whatever reason, they're not in it anymore. And so this is kind of their big thing that they do. You know, they're not doing ot speech, PT anymore. And so they really just do in steps of grace. So I think it's kind of a mixed bag.

Bethany Darragh  12:06  

Yeah, I can, I can see situations where, when I was in private practice, having that conversation with families, like, I think it's time for a new thing. You know, we we've been working hard at therapy, but the, you know, we need socialization, we need a performance, we need a big going, the kids have lost the light in their eyes, you know, like, we need something that will light them up, you know, so I could definitely see a situation where something like steps of grace could be a good next step, or even a break from therapy, just to kind of light them up. So they have that intrinsic motivation to work, you know? Yes,

Brennan Barber  12:45  

Yes. It was kind of along those lines, you know, for the children that are having multiple therapies throughout the week, maybe receiving therapies in school as well. And then going to ballet on the weekends. Do you notice fatigue at certain points in time amongst some of those children? And how would you address that during a session?

Mallory Rosche  13:10  

Yeah, we so we have class on Tuesday afternoons. And so they had a long day at school. Some of them maybe have gone to therapy afterwards. And then they come into ballet. And it's almost supper time and they're tired. And so, you know, I definitely see kids who you know, they'll tell me, I'm tired, I'm ready to go home, I'm ready to take a shower and get the bed. And I'm like, listen, I get it. I'm the same way. You know, if some VIP kid is just too tired and needs a break, they can sit down and take a break. What I have found though is once they you know once we get the music on and we get going that kind of gives them a boost and and we usually are fine.

Bethany Darragh  13:59  

So is your staff therapy all therapy trained? Or do you have all different backgrounds in your teaching staff.

Mallory Rosche  14:05  

So I am actually up until this year have been the only teacher. I've been doing it all. This year I have pulled in a couple of ladies. One is a PT and she has an extensive dance background. And another is a college student but she she wants to go to speech and language therapy school. But she has a dance background and has been helping them with steps of grace for like over 10 years. And I use them mostly just enough to fill in and sub. We have a four month old so I just need a little bit more filled with the baby at home. So yeah, they both have backgrounds in dance.

Bethany Darragh  14:53  

Okay, so what are your most common, you know, resources or strategies or tools that you're telling them, or your volunteers like, Okay, in this situation, you know, what do you see that you're going to all the time and, and kind of teaching again and again and again to your teachers or volunteers?

Mallory Rosche  15:10  

Yeah, so one of the big things that I really have to, to encourage my volunteers to do is, if a kid runs, follow them, because of one runs, you know, then everybody else is gonna see it and think that they can run. And that, then it just becomes chaos, we talk a lot about, you know, crowd control. So if, if you have a child who gets up from the circle and runs away, you're gonna have to stand up and go take their hand and bring them back to the circle. And because they're, you know, the volunteers were very sweet. And they want to say, you know, Lucy, come back, come back to your spot, and I'm like, Nope, you gotta get up and go over there and grab her hand and bring her. So I think just being a little, you know, more assertive and things like that.

Brennan Barber  16:05  

With any of the children that attend that have maybe more severe mobility issues or tighter muscles. if you, do you do specific training with the volunteers with staff, as far as like, stretching or positioning, that might just kind of, I guess, lend itself to some of the safety involved with it? Yes,

Mallory Rosche  16:30  

Definitely, with some of the kids who have those more severe mobility needs, we will go over, you know, especially for my kids who are in wheelchairs, we'll go over transfers, you know, what it looks like to transfer them from their wheelchair to sitting on the floor, and vice versa. Or, you know, there are some kids who aren't able to go from sit to stand or stand to sit independently. And so we have to talk about and train them on how you know, what kind of supports we need to give them. So, we do that, and it's kind of, you know, there's no ahead of time training, it's all sort of, on the job learning. And so we'll just sort of go through those. And, you know, we'll have the, I'll have the kids, you know, we're all going to sit down right now. And, you know, one child, maybe Peyton needs help going from Stan to sit independently. And so I'll demonstrate what that looks like, what kind of support she needs. And so then they're able to provide that support. Terrific.

Bethany Darragh  17:33  

So in your role at Augusta University, What trends are you seeing in incoming students as Is there a lot of applicants each year? Are you guys having to market the OT field? Or what do you see?

Mallory Rosche  17:52  

Yeah, we do see quite a few applicants always more than spots we have available, we are actually in the middle of interviews right now. We have 45 spots per cohort. And we've already interviewed, gosh, maybe 25,20, 25, maybe even 30. applicants, and then we have several more interview days scheduled. So it's, it's nice for us because we kind of get to pick the cream of the crop, but you know, harder for applicants because they don't all get in on their first try. So, you know, that hasn't hasn't been an issue at this point. You know, we haven't really been having to go out and market and, you know, talk to students about why they should choose OT, which is something that we certainly do, but not necessarily because we have to.

Bethany Darragh  18:49  

Right? It's an interesting field, not often when you're out in public and someone asks what you do, and you say, I'm an occupational therapist, do they know what you're talking about? I still, you know, that's a joke that we've always laughed about. We've made T shirts about, you know, forever. But it still seems like people don't really know. But you know, little by little, a couple of people will say, Oh, I know someone who got ot, you know, which makes our job really hard when we're in the schools and teachers still don't really understand what we're there for. Or Yes, and even sometimes we'll get parents with a very specific idea of what we do come in for private practice and, and, and not fully understand what it's going to be. So I'm excited for just more OTS out there and more people wanting to be OTS.

Brennan Barber  19:43  

Along those lines, I guess a broader healthcare question. You know, are you seeing globally more demand for OT at this point in time. And you think that the rate of applicants students, I guess really students coming out of school like is keeping up with that demand? 

Mallory Rosche  20:03  

I think so I mean, I feel like we're in a field that is always going to be needed. OTs can do so much we can work in so many different areas, from schools, to private practice, to hospitals to nursing homes, you know, we can do so many things, that I think that there's always going to be a need for OT and two, I think we're starting to see a lot more community based practice, Bethany, you'd be interested in this. We have a lot of community based fieldwork sites now. So they're not necessarily the traditional medical model. We have students in an elementary school who have been working with doctors with let's Sharon Swift, and they have developed a program to improve literacy rates. And it's just a very sensory rich program. But it doesn't look like your traditional one on one therapy, because all the kids are coming through and they're rotating through different stations. And they're seeing so much progress in like visual perceptual skills, doing that at a pre K level or elementary level, elementary. So it's Jenkins Elementary School. And it's all of the students, they are all able to rotate through this. And they're working with college and education. And they've just gotten like a $2 million grant to extend it. Because it's been going you know that they've had such great feedback. So we've got that we've got a level one field work where students are working at a special needs preschool at Warren Baptist, they have a week long, not preschool, sorry, vacation Bible school. So they have a week-long VBS for children with special needs. And so they go and they work, you know that. So they're just a lot of these more non-traditional areas that I think we're going to see OTS in those spaces for, which is going to be more of a demand for it.

Bethany Darragh  22:04  

If you take the skills of an occupational therapist, and you take away the restraints of insurance, it's like,

Mallory Rosche  22:13  

yes, 100%. And really, that's what sets of graces, you know, it's a community based program, it's therapeutic. So it's kind of that similar concept,

Brennan Barber  22:22  

Are you a 501C3?

Mallory Rosche  22:26  

we are not. So I have kind of gone back and forth on doing the nonprofit status for years, I haven't done it. Because in all reality, I've always had a full time job. And this is just going to be my extra thing. And we don't have a ton of expenses. I pay rent to the dance studio to use their space. And we'll have the parents, you know, they pay a small monthly fee so that I can cover the expenses. So it was just weigh the pros and cons of it. And I think eventually I will I just haven't done it quite yet. And even with me not being a nonprofit, I have people who tell me, you know, I want to donate, I want to pay for, you know, two kids for their yearly tuition. And that, you know, I always tell them, like, I just want to be in your transparent I'm not a 501 C three, and they're like, as far as I'm

Brennan Barber  23:25  

sure are there grant funding opportunities that you'd be able to apply for as well to support?

Mallory Rosche  23:32  

Yeah, so that's the thing I would be able to apply for some grants, if I did have that nonprofit status. But it's working right now, like it is.

Bethany Darragh  23:42  

Well, I love that you guys have had the generosity to keep that going. I was on your website and noticed the options for scholarships were available from different specific people. And I just love that on your website, can you say what your website is, if anyone wants to check it out?

Mallory Rosche  24:00  

It is And we're on Instagram and Facebook, too. So I try to post pictures of the kids and videos of the kids in class. One of the things that I didn't really think about when I started this, you know, I just really wanted kids to be able to come to dance class, you know, regardless of if they could walk independently or, you know, if they had these mobility skills that other kids did, but one thing I wasn't really thinking about is the relationships that they would form. I have some children who have danced with me for all 13 years that we've been open. And so they all become friends, and they have playdates and they invite each other to birthday parties and spend the night parties and their parents or friends now. So I think that just seeing that those relationships form was something that shouldn't I think about but it's been really one of the sweetest things about the whole program is just seeing those friendships and those bonds between both the students and their parents.

Bethany Darragh  25:12  

Oh, yeah, I can just picture the waiting room support sessions that happen, I'm sure you have tissue boxes.

Mallory Rosche  25:18  

Yes. That's what they do, you know, they can sit out there and they can, you know, read a book, or they can chat with another parent who is in the same, you know, the similar situation. So it's just really a good environment for everybody.

Brennan Barber  25:36  

I think probably one of the, like, tangential, like unseen benefits of some of that, too, is that like, there's a lot of resource sharing that goes on between parents for instance, on the sidelines watching soccer, same thing, it's, you know, we've seen my son develop some great relationships with friends. One family in particular, we’ve become very close with, and they'll have playdates and we go to their house, they come to ours. They were actually the first ones that tipped us off to special needs trust and the benefits of having that in place for a child with a disability. They were able to put us in touch with an attorney who had set up the Trust for their daughter. So you know, I think just some of that, you know, kind of organic feedback and input that happens between parents. You know, there's a lot of value there.

Mallory Rosche  26:35  

Yes, for sure. Just knowing you're not alone, I think is one huge thing.

Bethany Darragh  26:41  

Well, applause to you for doing this for 13 years on the side of a full time job. Whoa,

Mallory Rosche  26:50  

I do have my days where I come home, and I am so exhausted. But it's it's exhaustion in a great way. And, you know, I step back and look at just the community that we build, and it's all worth it. 

Bethany Darragh  27:06  

Well, thank you so much for meeting with us. Mallory. This has been great. And I know you've inspired someone to just start something.

Mallory Rosche  27:15  

Yeah, absolutely. Well, I'm happy if anybody has questions or just needs a little push to get going like I did in the beginning. I'm happy to talk with anybody about my experience.

bottom of page