A Kid at Heart
Kaitlyn Irwin, OTD ‘22, loves experiencing ‘Ah ha’ moments with her young clients. “As a pediatric occupational therapist, I work closely with kiddos to access a wide array of tasks,” she says. “It’s the best feeling to see something click for a child when they learn a new skill or participate in a new activity.”
Irwin graduated with her entry-level doctorate in occupational therapy from Tufts in 2022. Since then, she has been working at Pediatric Therapy Center in Salem, NH, a woman-owned practice where she completed a fieldwork placement as a graduate student. Irwin supports children living with a variety of diagnoses, including autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and vision challenges.
“I always knew I wanted to work with kids,” she says. “I was a camp counselor for many years and I’m the oldest of four children, so I was always around them. I love seeing what kids are interested in and empowering them to achieve their goals. My passion is helping them to achieve their passions.”
Irwin was first introduced to occupational therapy in high school when she took a sports injuries course that described the field. She immediately resonated with the values OT espouses, like considering clients holistically and honoring their unique needs and wants. She encountered OT again when her grandmother was receiving OT services in a rehabilitation facility. OTs helped Irwin’s grandmother to get back to baking cookies and participating in other activities she loved.
Irwin attended Villanova University, majoring in psychology and Spanish with a minor in education. She entered the Tufts Occupational Therapy EL-OTD program after completing a Fulbright Scholarship where she taught English in Spain.
“I flew out to visit Tufts for the first time during a snowstorm,” she recalls. “The whole campus was covered in white and I was able to meet the Admissions Coordinator Jill Rocca and sit in on a pediatrics class. I felt how welcoming everyone was and I could see myself growing professionally here. It’s a small program, so I was able to really connect with my professors and peers. There are so many experiential and research opportunities, which is really wonderful.”
Irwin completed fieldwork placements at a home healthcare setting for older adults and a pediatric therapy center. She particularly enjoyed classes taught by Mary Barnes, who specializes in group theory and practice, and Gary Bedell, who was her faculty mentor for her doctoral research project where she created a universal design for learning and inclusion toolkit for the Eliot-Pearson Children’s School, a laboratory-demonstration program of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Study and Human Development at Tufts.
“Tufts really supported me in undertaking projects that aligned with my interests and goals,” she reflects. “I’m a pretty confident person, but when you’re entering a new profession it’s easy to get intimidated. But having the opportunity to engage in a doctoral experiential component, fieldwork placements, and present at conferences gave me the confidence and knowledge base to start my career off strong and provide the highest level of care I can to kiddos and their families.”
During her time at Tufts, Irwin also worked as an admissions assistant under Admissions Coordinator Jill Rocca. “Jill is just the best,” says Irwin. “I loved getting to collaborate with her on different creative projects, like producing social media content and blog posts and running info sessions. She put a lot of trust and faith in me, but also provided a lot of support.”
In addition to her pediatric OT job in New Hampshire, Irwin works as a pediatric OT at a facility in Wakefield, MA and is a mentor for a current doctoral student continuing her collaboration with Eliot-Pearson Children’s School. She also runs a small photography business, specializing in portraiture. “I always say I’m a kid at heart,” reflects Irwin. “I love my jobs because I get to be creative, play, sing, dance, and laugh. I get to help kiddos do what’s necessary, meaningful, and fun for them. It’s all a joy.”