Community profile: Paula Mischlich reflects on 45 years working with special needs children
Adjusting to the difficulties of raising a special needs child can be challenging, but the work of people like Paula Mischlich goes a long way to ease parent worries.
Mischlich retired at the end of 2020 after nearly 46 years working with developmentally disabled infants and toddlers as an early intervention physical therapist for Mountain Valley Developmental Services in Glenwood Springs.
Her work began with a brief stint at Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, Texas, in the mid-1970s before she and husband Bill decided to move to Colorado. Paula had grown up in Canon City and started her post-secondary schooling at Colorado State University before obtaining her PT degree at the University of Texas at Dallas.
The Mischliches ultimately settled in Glenwood Springs, where Bill went on to work for the U.S. Forest Service and then the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), while Paula landed a job in February 1975 as an early intervention specialist with what then was known as Happy Times Preschool.
The organization, founded to provide services for developmentally disabled individuals and their families, later changed its name to the Upper Colorado River Community Centered Board, and then Mountain Valley Developmental Services (MVDS).
Mischlich worked as part of a team of physical therapists until retiring Dec. 22.
“Paula helped thousands of children advance with their physical development and soothed the worries of their parents,” said MVDS Executive Director Sara Sims. “She won the hearts of numerous children by meeting them with thoughtfulness and compassion.”
By encouraging children to move about their environments and explore the world around them, the objective for early childhood physical therapists is to stimulate muscle development, Sims said.
That’s critically important for children with delays in their natural development, she said.
“Paula considered each child’s well-being with great devotion and creativity,” Sims said.
Mischlich said she never really considered doing anything different and has always enjoyed her work. And, there wasn’t much question about where she wanted to ply her trade.
“We didn’t really want to be in Texas, and when Bill got a summer job with the Forest Service here in western Colorado, we decided we liked Glenwood Springs and decided to move,” she said.
After Paula went to work for what became MVDS, Bill spent summers with the Forest Service and would work parts of the year for the Mid-Continent Resources coal mine in Redstone. He eventually spent 38 years with CDOT and still does consulting work for the agency.
Families at one time would come to a central location for their child’s therapy sessions, but Mischlich said a change to where therapists would go into the homes was more effective and made for stronger relationships.
“The families really know the children best, and we would try to work the therapy into their routines, rather than it just being an exercise time,” Mischlich said.
As an early interventionist, she would work with children from their infant years until they turned age 3. At that point, the children move into the preschool services provided by the public education system.
With infants, the therapy work is focused on head control and then rolling and eventually sitting, crawling and pulling to a standing position as they become toddlers.
Some children with delayed development are diagnosed at birth, while it’s not apparent in other children until they become older, Mischlich explained.
The pandemic restrictions of the past year created some obstacles for physical therapists, she said. But she added that she was impressed with the young families that she works with and their ability to adapt.
“They are able to use technology in a way that I never had considered,” Mischlich said.
Over the years, she said she enjoyed coordinating her work with the other therapists who are part of the team at MVDS.
Sarah Brotherson is the director of child and family services at MVDS and was Mischlich’s supervisor for about 17 years.
“Paula had a wonderful way of making therapy fun for everyone involved,” Brotherson said. “She was just genuinely kind and made our families feel comfortable and was always excited to see the progress a child made from week to week.”
The younger therapist also would look up to Mischlich for her knowledge and professionalism, Brotherson added.
Mischlich said she looks forward to more time spent with her grandchildren. She and Bill raised three children of their own in Glenwood Springs, two of whom still live in Colorado and another who is in Indiana.
There’s also ample work to be done in the yard and the garden and around their West Glenwood home of 35 years.
MVDS is sponsoring a “Card Shower” in honor of Mischlich’s retirement. Those who worked with her over the years are invited to share memories, stories, appreciation and retirement wishes by sending cards to: MVDS c/o Paula Mischlich, P.O. Box 338, Glenwood Springs, Co 81602.
Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or email@example.com.
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