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Remembering Cousin with Down Syndrome

Oct 26, 2021
5 min Read
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Flowers and decorations remembering those with Downes Syndrome.
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Sierra LaMotte selfie wearing graduation robe and cap.

Growing up in small-town Oregon, Sierra LaMotte discovered a passion for inclusivity that’s only deepened in the years since.

It started, like most things, from personal experience. LaMotte, OTD’21, was very close to her cousin Joshua. Joshua had Down syndrome, and before he died at the age of 6, he was encouraged to learn and play with his typically developing peers. LaMotte saw how much good it did him, how much he and the other children benefited from his inclusion.

“It’s so important to me for everyone to feel included,” LaMotte says. “Especially children with disabilities. And as I’ve worked to become an occupational therapist, I’ve discovered new ways to make this possible.”

As a recent graduate of the occupational therapy program in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions, LaMotte is turning her passion into real-world action. She has created an all-ability outdoor classroom for a grade school in Dayton, Oregon, just a short drive from where she grew up.

LaMotte designed the outdoor classroom — her doctoral capstone project — based
on the researched benefits of children being outdoors, moving around and having hands- on learning experiences outside the traditional classroom.

Dayton Grade School recently added a new playground, but its six-inch rubber barrier and asphalt chip surface make it difficult to access for some students.

LaMotte’s outdoor learning space will add enrichment activities for all the children to enjoy — bird feeders and houses, garden beds, artwork, a sensory table of sand and a sensory wall of gravel, seashells, river rocks, bamboo, moss, wood rounds and pinecones. Such sensory elements are shown to encourage stimulation, exploration and development for younger children.

LaMotte is also creating an activity book for the teachers to help them utilize the outdoor classroom to its full potential.

Nancy Moody, a preschool teacher at Dayton Grade School, says LaMotte’s creation is a game-changer for her students.

“This is an amazing resource that the children are going to be able to use any time of the year and in so many different ways,” Moody says. “Sierra is so passionate and excited to help our students, and what she’s done is going to make a huge difference.”

To fund, design and construct the outdoor classroom, LaMotte has received help from the community, as well as her family and friends. Parents and teachers helped her meet her fundraising goals. A local lumberyard donated most of the wood. And her own father and grandfather helped her with construction.

LaMotte’s Creighton experience, meanwhile, helped her attain the skills and understanding to achieve such a project.

“I love the OT program at Creighton,” she says. “One of the reasons I chose Creighton is the value of taking care of everyone. When I was interviewing for different schools, Creighton showed the most concern for focusing on low-income patients and those with limited access to resources. Creighton teaches you how to take care of everyone.”

LaMotte’s outdoor classroom is, she hopes, just the beginning of a career dedicated to serving children with disabilities. The space is also a tribute to her late cousin Joshua.

“In his short life, he brought so many people to God,” she says. “Through my love for Joshua, God guided me down this path, and I’m so grateful.”