The late Dr. Koomar co-founded OTA-Watertown in Watertown Square in 1983, and it is now known as OTA The Koomar Center in Newton, Massachusetts. She served as President ot OTA as well as President of the Board of the Spiral Foundation. She was also a Professor of Practice at Tufts University, Boston School of Occupational Therapy. She completed her PhD in developmental psychology at Boston University where she was also an assistant professor in occupational therapy. In 1984 she studied with Dr. Jean Ayres, who developed the theory of sensory integration. Sadly Dr. Koomar passed away in February of 2013.
Dr. Koomar, an icon in her field, meant so much to so many people, and changed for the better the lives of thousands of children and their families. Many titles come to mind when trying to describe Dr. Koomar: mother, wife, visionary, entrepreneur, scientist, educator, author, mentor, and healer, but what probably describes Dr. Koomar best is not a title, but the sincerity and humanity of her actions.Her gift to see the strength in people by supporting them to be the best they can possibly be, and her selfless capacity to nurture the souls of those she taught, treated, and mentored is immeasurable. Dr. Koomar reached people in ways that no others could.
“I have never met anyone like her. She never thought of herself first, ever, in any situation. Her humanity is beyond anything I have ever seen.”
Robert Hebert, COO, OTA
Dr. Koomar spent a distinguished career as an occupational therapist and entrepreneur. She received her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from Ohio State University, followed by her master’s degree and PhD in educational psychology from Boston University. Trained by Ginny Scardinia and Dr. A. Jean Ayres in sensory integration theory, assessment and intervention, Dr. Koomar was always grateful to have had the opportunity to be mentored by such wonderful teachers. She carried on their model of mentoring throughout her career as she in turn mentored her own students and staff.
“Dr. Koomar always took a personal, as well as professional, interest in her mentees, whether you were a client, parent, student, staff person or colleague. She opened many doors for those whose lives she touched.”
Teresa May-Benson, Director of Spiral Foundation, long-time mentee, friend and colleague
In her early years as a therapist Dr. Koomar developed a model for implementing sensory integration intervention in the Cambridge public school system. Seeing the success of her sensory integration program in the school system and following the work of Dr. Ayres, Dr. Koomar and a few like-minded visionaries opened Occupational Therapy Associates (OTA) in 1983 to treat children struggling with learning disabilities and sensory integration problems. Starting modestly in one room in Watertown Square, little did Dr. Koomar know that decades later thousands of children, adolescents and adults would be treated by her and her mentored staff thereby transforming the lives of those struggling with sensory processing disorder (SPD), coordination problems, and learning difficulties of all types. OTA The Koomar Center is the largest center of its kind in the world helping individuals and families across a broad spectrum of disorders. Clients from Europe, Middle East, and Asia visit the center as do professionals from across the globe to seek the guidance and knowledge only available from Dr. Koomar and her senior staff. Numerous occupational and physical therapy centers, run by many protégés of Dr. Koomar, now operate across the country helping even more children and families than ever before.
“Dr. Koomar was always so gracious and selfless with her time. She would give us just about anything we asked for including her blueprint on how to operate a successful practice. She just wanted to help children and families and knew by helping us start up more children would be served.”
Private Practice Owner
Beyond her success at OTA, Dr. Koomar was a researcher and author always looking at ways to better the treatment brought to children. Along with Ann Trecker, MS, OTR/L, she started the Sensory Processing Institute for Research and Learning (SPIRAL Foundation) a non-profit organization established to ensure that any research and training in the field of sensory processing was evidenced-based and led to best practices. Not afraid of controversy or turf wars, Dr. Koomar worked diligently to build bridges among members of the Occupational Therapy community, mental health community, neuroscience, research fields as well as school systems. At the center of these efforts was her sincere desire to support families and professionals so that the field could be expanded and treatment results improved. Dr. Koomar took to these tasks with fierce intellectual rigor. Dr. Koomar saw the connections among different fields and her ability to synthesize complex variables into simple, teachable components has laid the groundwork for the next generation of therapists.
“Dr. Koomar could make sense of things others may have not seen….always approaching issues with careful clinical reasoning. Jane had a way of asking question that would lead you to a new and deeper understanding.…”
Marsha Raredon, OTA therapist, long-time colleague, and former OTA Director
Dr. Koomar was also an educator both formally in the classroom as an associate professor at Tufts and Boston University and as a lecturer and subject matter expert, but also informally as a mentor in the treatment room. A thoughtful observer and listener, Dr. Koomar would never rashly respond but rather would listen, process, and then provide superior feedback. She trained generations of occupational therapists on how to connect with the child through patience, listening, and observation; and how to communicate with frightened and concerned parents. She taught all her staffs how to take the blame away from the parents; and give them hope when they may have thought all hope was gone. She felt the art of therapy was equal to the science behind it and required that all her therapists learn to make that connection.
Advice for treatment:
“I remember her mentoring advice. ‘You need to be patient, sit with it, and it will come.’”
Peg Ingolia, long-time friend, co-worker, and OTA therapist
Advice with parents:
“She taught me many things that I have used every day — especially on how to connect with frightened and concerned parents. ‘You have to meet the parent where they are as this is a whole new language and world to them. Building a relationship with the child is critical to successful therapy but gaining the trust of the parent is just as critical to its success.‘“
Sarah Sawyer, Dr. Koomar mentee and Clinical Director of OTA
Dr. Koomar leaves her family, OTA, and the greater OT community much too early as her life’s work was embarking on so many new and exciting explorations: the convergence of occupational therapy and mental health; new understandings of neuroplasticity of the brain; development and integration of adjunct services and possible new modalities and collaborations. Dr. Koomar was a relentless trailblazer but also a planner, and as such she paved a path for the next generation to emulate, to question, to explore, and to improve. Those of us here at OTA who have been mentored, trained and touched so deeply by Dr. Koomar’s guidance and wisdom plan to carry out her wishes and preserve her legacy of rigor in research, excellence and professionalism in treatment, and empathy and compassion in our connection to our clients. While we are grief stricken today, we feel tomorrow is full of hope and healing — just as Dr. Koomar would want.
“Anybody who ever met Dr. Koomar remembers her and always will. You don’t meet Dr. Koomar and not become a better person as a result of it.”
Her staff and countless clients and parents