Achieving the dream: Lauren Long inspires passion for pediatric therapy
Photos by Rachel Howard
The words “Different, Not Less” are painted alongside a colorful mural of a Monarch butterfly on the building on Sparkman Street that houses Achievement Pediatric Therapies. Lauren Long says those words are at the heart of the pediatric occupational, behavioral, mental health and speech therapy clinic she owns with her husband Shannon.
Other inspirational phrases line the halls of the clinic, including “We see the able, not the label” and “Human. Kind. Be both.”
The Longs opened the business in the summer of 2019 – after completing the remodeling work themselves. In three short years, the clinic has grown from seven appointments per week to more than 100.
Long is an occupational therapist who has worked with elderly patients in nursing homes and through home health agencies, but she said she loves working with children the most.
Lauren and Shannon did not have any children when they began the journey of opening Achievement Pediatric Therapies, but shortly thereafter they welcomed a daughter, Chapel, now 4, who is on the spectrum.
“I think it was in our path – I think it’s where the Lord led us,” Long says. “Different, not less” has a really true meaning to me now.””
Long says being a therapist for children on the spectrum is completely different than having a child of her own with special needs.
“I was two different therapists, but I’m a better one now,” she said.
The clinic features several treatment spaces including a gym complete with a climbing wall, sensory room, speech, occupational therapy and feeding rooms.
The clinic’s most important employee, as Long puts it, is a white-and-grey Lion Head rabbit named Nala.
“Nala endures a lot, but she’s a trooper,” Long says. “She’s the best bunny ever. On the weekend she will go out and jump on the trampoline. It’s the weirdest thing but we love it. “Nala, bunny, jump, feel” – there are a lot of words to incorporate into therapy, and she is very good with children.”
Now employing 20 people, for Long, success is not only defined by her business thriving and being profitable. Seeing their patients make slow, steady progress is her dream come true. She attributes that growth to prayer.
“Our first client to ever be treated was nonverbal. She was a severe case. Three years later and she’s still coming to see us but she comes in saying “Hi” and sassing us – hiding toys because she knows she’s not supposed to have them. That’s her way of communicating. That’s progress.
“Our ultimate end here is to help these children learn to communicate in society. These kids are going to turn 18 and then they won’t be able to come here anymore and they’re going to be expected to get on disability or go to a group home – and we don’t want that,” Long says. “We want them to be able to have jobs, to be able to communicate if they’re hurting or if someone hurts them.”
Long, who lives with her family in Guntersville, said they were welcomed to Hartselle with open arms.
“We were working here painting and we had so many people stop by and ask if they could help,” she said. “Mike Tucker with his two boys were the first to stop by and we still have a relationship. Everyone has been so great.”
Long says she is not much of a risk taker, but it was her passion for helping children with special needs that make her take a leap of faith to open Achievement Pediatric Therapies three years ago.
“I like planning and strategy, I like knowing how things are going to happen,” Long says. “My husband was the one who gave me his entire 401(k) so we could open the clinic. After buying and renovating the building, we had $2,000 left and three days before payroll was due insurance came through.”
They made payroll that week and every week since.
The children her clinic helps every day are why Long says she decided to take the risk for which she now constantly reaps the reward.
“We see miracles here daily.”