This edition of our Speaker Spotlight series features occupational therapy practitioner (OTP) and Integrative Education course presenter, Patricia Oetter, better known as Patti. Patti’s
career as an OTP has spanned over four decades and her work as an author and presenter has made her a well-known name in the occupational therapy (OT) field around the world. The fact that so many OTPs and other professionals have been able to learn from her work is due largely to her determination (as well as defiance) as a teenager and young adult.
A Challenging Start
Patti was born in 1943, and was the eldest of five children. From a very young age, she aspired to become a pediatrician. Unfortunately, her dreams were never supported by her family and as a teenager in the late 1950’s, it was quite uncommon for young women to attend college, especially in the field of medicine. Patti’s mother, a secretary, encouraged her to attend secretarial school and hoped that she would soon get married and raise a family. Her father, who was a dentist, was more accepting of his daughter’s ambitions but also upfront with her about his inability to pay for the high cost of medical school while also supporting a family of seven. He encouraged her to instead explore alternative opportunities in the medical field. Patti’s research of other professions led her to the field of OT and she was drawn to the opportunity to use her creativity and problem-solving skills. Her mother, still unhappy with her choice, continued to suggest alternatives such as a teaching career. Patti persisted and attended OT school and accepted her first job in western Kansas in an inpatient psychiatric unit.
Career and Learning
While a majority of Patti’s career has included holding most positions for ten years or more, her first job did not last long. She quickly realized that inpatient psychiatric units were not the right fit for her, and she jumped at the chance to move to Kansas City and work as an OTP in the children’s rehabilitation unit at the University of Kansas Medical Center. There she enjoyed working as part of a large team and participating in multidisciplinary assessments. This exposure also sparked her interest in psychology and audiology. During that time, she also earned a master’s degree in special education. She chose this degree as a route to work with school-aged children, as school-based OT was still largely uncommon at the time.
As a self-described “continuing education junkie,” Patti additionally sought out a wide range of courses which eventually afforded her the opportunity to begin making important professional connections. One of the first connections she made was with Patricia Wilbarger while taking a Southern California Sensory Integration Test (SCSIT) course. Patti asked Patricia if she would like to have dinner together after the course. Patricia agreed, and a lifelong friendship and professional relationship was born. Additionally, Patti traveled extensively to take as many courses as she could from Dr. A. Jean Ayers and eventually was able to form a relationship with Dr. Ayers as well. These relationships led to Patti being invited to join the faculty and teach the SCSIT coursework.
As Patti expanded her teaching career, she also continued to work as an OTP in a variety of settings, eventually adding school-based and NICU work to her resume while working in Wisconsin and Minnesota. Her experiences in the NICU (which interestingly began as a maternity leave coverage position for Eileen Richter) and in early childhood settings sparked her interest in learning more about fetal and early childhood development.
Patti’s involvement and interest in childhood development grew as she shifted to new roles in the state of New Mexico. She worked on an evaluation team and supported the implementation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in New Mexico, eventually joining a research team that focused on assessing the early childhood and special education programs across the state.
The next stop in Patti’s career journey led her west to California. During her time in California, she held a variety of positions, beginning with the role of education director of Sensory Integration International (SII). During this time she also worked as a consultant before moving to Northern California to be closer to family. She briefly worked in a school setting before starting her own private practice where she provided intensive services to children in her converted garage space five days per week. Her most recent move has led Patti to Ohio to be closer to her daughter and she remains busy primarily with teaching, mentoring, and consulting.
While Patti’s decades-long career has brought her to many different settings and roles across the United States, she has shared her knowledge with others through teaching various courses since the late 1970s. While Patti’s teachings are commonly known throughout the states, she has also taught extensively across the globe including in Hong Kong, Singapore, China, India, Malaysia, South America, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, and Europe. Most recently, like nearly all of us, Patti’s career has been impacted by Covid-19. With the cancellation of the majority of in-person continuing education courses, Patti has shifted to primarily teaching virtually and creating on-demand courses with her colleague Eileen Richter.
Patti is likely best known for her contributions to the MORE concept (Motor, Oral, Respiratory, and Eyes) as well as co-authoring MORE: Integrating the Mouth with Sensory and Postural Functions with Eileen Richter. Patti describes MORE as, “not a program but rather a group of concepts that help us better understand development and the things that the suck/swallow/breathe synchrony (SSB) allows that development to proceed typically (or not).” MORE was largely inspired by one of Patti’s former clients, Phillip, who had Down Syndrome. Patti worked with Phillip for several years, and she was consistently amazed by his ability to utilize taste, temperature, volume, movement, posture, vision, breath, and proprioception to regulate and participate. Phillip served as her mentor for how these systems interact to support function. To learn more about Philip’s story and his role in the MORE concept, read Patti’s recent blog here.
Words of Wisdom
While Patti certainly has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to share, her primary piece of advice to OTPs would be to prioritize development and to look at development as a whole. She feels that too often, only small pieces of development are taken into consideration during the assessment process. She points out the interrelated aspects of development and the need to pinpoint when and where development was interrupted and to start from there when planning interventions. Doing so makes the intervention process quicker and more pleasant for all involved.
If you would like to learn more from Patti, check out some of her current on-demand course offerings at Integrativeed.com including: MORE: Integrating the Mouth with Sensory and Postural Functions and The Pervasive Impact of Breath on Function: What to Know and What to Do.