We’ve all had moments in our lives where we’ve struggled, sometimes for so long it seemed impossible that we’d ever break through, but we did. Do you remember that moment when it all made sense, where things were clear and you could finally say, “Aha!”
It’s the moment we’re most sure of our abilities and ourselves. Tiffany Zakka, former CEO and founder of Kidnetics based in Miami, works everyday to guarantee that those “aha” moments happen to children who are struggling to just keep up and at risk of being left behind.
“Building their trust and empowering them with the idea that they can do things for themselves is what I strive for with their success in mind,” Zakka said. “There is no greater joy than to witness their facial expression when they realize their own potential.”
With an extensive background in occupational therapy and sensory integration, Zakka founded Kidnetics in 2008, stepping away from a company and a list of clients already well established in her field. With the mission to provide a whole child approach to early intervention and prevention, Zakka wanted to take her experiences and expertise to the next level.
“I made the decision to take a risk and go out on my own,” Zakka recalled. “I have always liked to be creative, using different research-based methods to create dynamic programs unique to each child.”
With Kidnetics (named so for the idea that kids needs need movement – kinetic energy – to learn) Zakka brought her services directly to the client, offering to travel to the client’s home, school or day care to work in the environment best suited for them.
“Being a mother of four children, ranging in ages from 6 to 18 years-old, and being a licensed occupational therapist, I truly understand the value of children engaging in play in their natural environments,” Zakka epxplained. “As these skills directly relate to improving children’s developmental life skills, to better their function in their everyday environment.”
Working with children affected with different degrees of autism, developmental delays, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, attention deficit disorder and any other number of fine motor skill difficulties can have its challenges, which is why Zakka continually looks for new and creative methods of therapy to enhance sensory integration. But she doesn’t stop there, she doesn’t focus solely on one aspect of therapy, nor does she ignore the family of the children she works with.
“I feel what sets me apart from other businesses is the relationship that I build with the family as a whole. It is essential that a bond be made between me and the family so that there is trust, comfort and success in each therapy session,” Zakka explained. “I thrive off of parental and professional feedback to maximize the child’s potential. I focus on working with the child as a whole, although they might seek my specialties for one thing, each session they receive physical, emotional and educational value.”
Kidnetics client, Melissa Sires, said, “Tiffany has been my son’s occupational therapist going on four years now. Not only is she an excellent therapist but a good friend of our family. She is sincere, flexible and always willing and able to help in any way possible. With the help of Kidnetics, my son went from not being able to hold a pencil to writing legibly and with ease.
“Tiffany has the gift of patience and nurturing that is rare and difficult to find in many individuals. She has created a bond with my son that enables her (and him) to attain more productive sessions. I have to say that without her help, my son would not have made the strides that he has thus far. And with her enduring assistance, Danny’s progress will continue to advance in a positive direction. We are blessed to have Tiffany as a mentor, tutor, therapist and friend,” she continued.
Taking her relationships with her clients beyond the professional level, Zakka and Kidnetics strive for the kind of success a family member would wish for you. It is with this kind of intensity and dedication that Zakka bases her work on, building a trusting relationship that works to consistently overcome obstacles and exceed goals.
“As a therapist, I strive to expand my knowledge beyond the regular occupational therapy courses, some of these include yoga and Pilates certifications that I incorporate into my sessions,” Zakka said. “The importance of the core and upper body is essential to the success of a patient’s therapy. In expanding my knowledge, I came across Buti Yoga, which I currently practice on my own. I eventually have hopes to teach young teenage girls in order to help them find the confidence that is necessary to their success, as well as moms who get caught up in taking their child from one therapy to the next.”
Zakka finds that she has many visions for the future of Kidnetics and occupational therapy in general. Though she regularly faces obstacles within the pediatric community as to the acceptance of the practices of occupational therapists, Zakka continually works to dispel any doubt that her methods and the methods of her peers are anything but positive to the development of struggling children. Though no technique produces overnight change, Zakka points out that it is essential to understand instead that progress is a gradual climb; that even though sometimes it can be slow to start, it will eventually get you where you want to be. It is with this positive and patient energy that Zakka will lead Kidnetics into a bigger, broader future.
“I am constantly thinking about the future of Kidnetics and how I can be the resource network to all families. I find that parents are lost and they need a support system along the way. They need to know their child is going to get through these challenges,” Zakka said. “It is my dream to be that resource, connecting families to allow them the opportunity to empower one another, with an environment founded on no judgment.”
Having recently registered the nonprofit company, Sensory Fusion, Zakka is looking to expand her reach within her community and provide services to children of all typical and special needs as well as to homeless families, foster children and at outreach programs, rehab centers and schools. Her goal is to provide a service to families that may not be able to afford weekly therapy and to offer them the help they need as well.
“Eventually I would love to have a center that incorporates an all-in-one,” Zakka explained, “utilizing a multi-discipline approach that parents will be able to have more options for kids that are high functioning autism that need support and help with homework, for kids that are having a hard time keeping up in class but don’t necessarily have a diagnosis. As the years progress in school, so does the work load and this is when panic rises because no parent wants to see his or her child falling behind. This is why I strive for early intervention.”
Zakka also has hopes to expand Kidnetics internationally, to populations with limited resources, such as Jamaica or Ghana in West Africa, but most importantly to increase awareness for the need of early developmental intervention focusing on the emotional, social, spiritual and physical aspects of success. At the end of the day, however, the focus remains providing children with their very own “aha” moments; enabling them to see the power and ability within themselves.
“Though each holds a special place in my heart, there are a few clients who have really stood out,” Zakka recalled. “A little 3-year-old boy did not communicate, could not participate in age-appropriate functional activities and could not do simple puzzles. One session after many, he was finally able to put a simple 12-piece puzzle together, that he had the drive to complete again and again now that he was able to complete it himself. The wave of accomplishment and the look on his face was enough. He finally got it. From that session on he was a different child, he was more verbal and more open to try new activities.”
Zakka’s client had had his “aha” moment, propelling him into new territories that would not have been possible without the consistent patience and reassurance given to him. They may be small moments, tiny victories in an ocean of mundane, but without them, Zakka would never be able to build their courage to try for more.