Carla Austin moved to Dallas shortly after the “Cold Sunday” of January 17, 1982 – when the temperature registered -31 degrees Fahrenheit in Madison, Wisconsin. Later that year, pregnant with their second child, Carla and her husband said, "no more," and moved to Dallas to thaw out. They stayed put and loved raising their family in North Texas.
As an occupational therapist with a 40 year career, Carla received her BS in occupational therapy from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Her first position in pediatrics was working with medically fragile infants in Wisconsin before home care became available to families. Following that, she worked in the Richardson Development Center in an early intervention program – they started a home-based program for children ages 0-3 years old. In 1990, Carla started her own private occupational therapy practice which has allowed her to see children of all ages in their homes, schools, and communities.
For the past 13 years Carla's second home has been Chase’s Place, a special-needs school in Dallas. Chases' Place was founded by Steve and Sharon Folsom, who began the school based on a vision for their own special needs son named Chase. The school would be an individualized program with competent and caring teachers and therapists. There would be a 2:1 student-teacher ratio, and children would not be turned away because they were too low-functioning. This vision became a reality, and it functions today in part due to Carla’s services.
Carla provides occupational therapy for all the students every week, completely on a volunteer basis. She cares deeply and has a unique friendship with each kid. The challenges they present are part of why Carla loves working with special needs kids so much. “I love being able to find that special piece of equipment or technique that helps a child. And of course, the look of satisfaction or achievement on a child’s face is priceless," said Carla. "For a lot of our kids, progress is slow – but very well celebrated."
Not only are the kids inspiring to Carla, but the parents of these kids are as well. “Witnessing [parents’] dedication to their families is such a gift, and I am so fortunate to be reminded daily of what is important in life – being helpful, telling someone you love them, and taking time to appreciate the small joys,” Carla said. The parents of Chase’s Place kids are truly exceptional – and, “the kids’ smiles say it all!”
Story and photos by Hunter Folsom.