2012 Alumni Profile: Faculty Associate Sarah Zurawski
OT alumna finds opportunity to teach UW students what she practices
Ten years ago, Sarah Zurawski began her career as an Occupational Therapist in the Portage School District. Her primary desire was to positively impact the lives of the special children on her caseload.
As she gained experience she has found that her Occupational Therapy experience is vital to the development of all children, not only to the lives and families of students with disabilities.
Zurawski is part of a team of two occupational therapists and one occupational therapy assistant in the Portage School District. She supports students ranging in age from three to 12, at four different schools.
Early on, Zurawski had an experience that led her to concentrate in the area of autism as a focus. She met the mother of a student with autism who was hired to consult with her and a special education teacher.
The mother visited weekly and helped the two of them design and implement an early childhood autism program. She taught her how to interact, communicate and connect with their students.
“Her weekly visits were invaluable. She taught by example and that was the best way for me to learn,” Zurawski said. “I immediately felt drawn to this population and feel a great sense of accomplishment when we are able to make breakthroughs and progress with our students.”
The program sparked her interest in obtaining a master’s degree in Special Education along with an Autism Specialist certificate. Zurawski dedicated 2 ½ years to researching techniques related to teaching students with autism independent living skills.
She now provides annual autism trainings for special and general education teachers, and also provides ongoing support for teams working with students with autism.
According to Zurawski, it is important for people to understand that “students with autism are unique but not different. They are like any other kid; they have likes and dislikes, they want to feel loved, included and understood.”
In addition to her work in the Portage School District, Zurawski is excited to be back on the UW-Madison campus this semester as a lecturer in the Occupational Therapy Program.
“I am passionate about teaching students and helping them to develop their skills. I strongly believe in providing students with an in-depth look into the clinical practices of an OT. Supervising and mentoring students is essential to the future of our profession and those who receive OT services, ” Zurawski said.
“I am extremely grateful for the education I received at UW and I love the enthusiasm of the OT students I have supervised. I've always envisioned myself working in higher education and when this opportunity presented itself, I felt compelled to apply…and there is no place I'd rather be.”