Occupational Therapist

Brittany McFadden turns playtime into progress.


Name: Brittany McFadden

Profession: Pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) at United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona

Age: I’m 37. I started working as an OT when I was 26.


What do you do for a living?

I get to play with kids! Pediatric means I’m an OT that specializes with kids. At United Cerebral Palsy of Central Arizona, I work to discover what a child can do and what they are having a hard time doing. My goal is always to find out what keeps a child from being successful and uncover solutions. Maybe they have a hard time thinking through a task like getting dressed, or maybe their hands are not strong enough to color or hold a spoon, it could be almost anything. Then I find creative ways to use play and fun to help them build the skills they need to do things that are important for being a kid.


At UCP of Central Arizona, I also teach parents ideas and strategies to help their kids grow and find ways to change how activities are done or how a room is organized so kids can be successful. I write evaluations and reports to communicate with doctors and families so we can keep track of our goals and what we are working on. Every kid is unique, so it means listening a lot, paying attention, and being creative with what I do for each individual child. Sometimes I work in a UCP clinic where we have really cool swings and activities to do, and I collaborate with my team of therapists. Sometimes I travel to a kid’s house, and other times we might go somewhere in the community like a store, museum or park and work on skills there. There are OTs that work with adults too.


What type of training do you need to do your job?

To be an occupational therapist you need to get a graduate degree. That means going to college first and getting a bachelor’s degree. I got a B.S. degree in speech and hearing science and psychology. I learned sign language because that’s super helpful in my job at UCP of Central Arizona. Then you have to go to graduate school for two to three years. Next you do fieldwork, which is like on-the-job training. After that you have to take a big exam about everything you’ve learned. When you pass, you get a license so you can be an OT. Every year you have to take classes to keep learning and growing. You get to pick these out based on what interests you and what’s important for your work.


What’s your favorite part of your job? 

I love getting to know kids and see them grow and learn new things. At UCP of Central Arizona the kids have great ideas, and they teach me a lot. Sometimes it takes a really long time to learn to do something new, but when it happens, we really celebrate!


What did you want to be when you were growing up? 

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a doctor, an architect, and fly airplanes. I still want to grow up and fly airplanes!


What advice would you give to a kid who wants to have a similar career? 

Occupational therapy is a very big area of work and is very rewarding. You can make a big difference in a child’s life. Try lots of different activities and get to know a lot of different people. This will help you understand people and have more creative ideas for your work. To be an OT you will need to learn to be patient, listen well and be a good teacher.


One fun fact NOT about your job? 

I like doing handstands when I need a movement break. It helps me wake up!