Long ago, when doctors and nurses at a Kansas children’s hospital treated Brianne Bulleigh’s newly diagnosed autoimmune disease, they could not have known how much they were motivating their young patient.
What Bulleigh saw there inspired her own commitment to a health sciences career, a commitment that today is paying off for the Omaha Children’s Museum, where a program Bulleigh helped devise assists children with disabilities to fully enjoy the museum’s offerings.
While her work with the museum is ongoing, Bulleigh’s contribution so far has resulted in “My Trip to the Omaha Museum: A Social Story,” which prepares special-needs children for the highly stimulative environment of noisy, excited children they will encounter at the museum.
“In fourth grade I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, which meant a lot of appointments at a children’s hospital,” Bulleigh says. “These would be all-day doctor’s appointments, and when you are at a children’s hospital that long you see a lot of things, a lot of really young kids who are really sick.
“I think I always just wanted to help other people, especially in that setting, because it seemed such a great level of care. I guess there is a pay-it-forward element to what I’m doing.”
Bulleigh graduated from Creighton University in May with a doctorate in Occupational Therapy after working with the Omaha Children’s Museum to complete her capstone project. The project occurred to her when touring the museum in order to observe children at play.
“My Trip to the Omaha Museum: A Social Story,” says Matt Walker, the museum’s senior exhibit designer, has made the museum a better place.
“The museum’s mission is to engage the imagination and create excitement about learning, and we want that mission to apply to all children,” he says. “It’s always good to have a fresh set of eyes, and Bri brought her training at Creighton, which was a really perfect opportunity to fold in some of her knowledge and get some recommendations based on the latest techniques in her field, which are very applicable to our guests.”
“The goal,” Bulleigh says, “is to avoid impacting children with special needs with overstimulation from sensory stimuli, because if you get to that point it’s already too late.”
“If we can prepare them for that a little bit, if we can help them understand in advance that it’s going to be a loud environment, that there’s a lot of visual stimuli — lots of bright colors and bright lights — then perhaps we can avoid a situation in which all of that puts a damper on a trip to the museum as soon as they walk in.”
Bulleigh currently works at Creighton University as a lab assistant in the occupational therapy program and volunteers at CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center–Bergan Mercy, where she researches hydrotherapy for babies born prematurely.
Next year she will be Creighton’s occupational therapy pediatric fellow.