Westchester's Top Health Leaders 2012: Louise Weakock-Rowe, RN, MPH

Westchester may well need Louise Weadock-Rowe now more than ever. Just two months after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that one in 88 American children has some form of autism—a 78-percent increase in five years—Louise Weadock-Rowe, 60, opened WeeZee World of “Yes, I Can!” The Chappaqua-based facility is an indoor sensory play space and occupational-therapy center for children with autism (as well as a wide variety of other disorders, including ADD and ADHD). It’s the first of its kind in Westchester and the largest in the United States.

WeeZee is based on Weadock-Rowe’s experience as a healthcare professional working with those who have what she calls “central nervous-system messaging disorders,” some of which are autism spectrum disorders, while others include ADD, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and Down syndrome. A registered child psychiatric nurse and mother of a child with one of these disorders, Weadock-Rowe began to develop her ideas when she worked with the team at The Johns Hopkins Hospital that researched and defined behaviors which, today, are recognized as signs and symptoms of autism.

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WeeZee’s 100 types of equipment are based on the apparatuses that Weadock-Rowe and her son, Paul (who was 7 at the time his sister was diagnosed), devised for her and her husband’s second child, Shannon, to help her overcome the severe disorders with which she was diagnosed as a toddler. Inspired by Shannon, Weadock-Rowe created the nonprofit Sensory Bullets—which “designs, creates, procures, and evaluates the effectiveness of therapeutic, artful, and playful sensory fitness equipment”—in April of this year. The information on and evaluations of the equipment are shared with doctors, hospitals, and relevant organizations, which allows for the spread of therapies that have been shown effective. It has even allowed for the creation of a new facility at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. Today, many children who have had access to Sensory Bullets’ evaluations are doing quite well, improving up to 30 percent in physical coordination and social-interaction abilities, says Weadock-Rowe. Shannon Weadock-Rowe herself is a flourishing college student in Massachusetts.

Gayle Augenbaum, MD, a child psychiatrist and former licensed occupational therapist who worked with Shannon, says that WeeZee will help other children with a number of issues. “Louise utilized what did and did not work for Shannon and took it a step beyond,” says the Mount Kisco-based physician. “She also consulted with other occupational and physical therapists throughout the construction.” Weadock-Rowe used about $1.5 million of her own money to create the facility.

“I want to have all kids performing better and feeling better about themselves,” Weadock-Rowe says, “so that, when they walk out in life, they can confidently say, ‘Yes, I can!’”

Photo by John O’Donnell

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