Marla Scaglione had never driven a bus before — but was pretty sure she would enjoy it.
“And I did!,” the Lutz resident and occupational therapist said. “People don’t pull out in front of me anymore! (laughs).”
Scaglione is the owner and operator of the A+ Handwriting Therapy Bus, or, as she calls it, Miss Dot.
The bus is a 1999 shuttle bus that Scaglione refurbished and repurposed to create a mobile occupational therapy clinic that she takes to a handful of local schools. She provides therapy sessions for young clients who are diagnosed with conditions including dyslexia, dysgraphia, autism and others.
The bus had about 80,000 miles on it when she bought it, and with the help of her husband and family, they ripped out the 26 seats, put in new flooring, added another A/C unit and installed swings. They also added a whiteboard, a bench, a desk and other learning tools — and turned her dream into reality.
The name Miss Dot comes from a quote from the artist Paul Klee — “A line is a dot that went for a walk.”
With Miss Dot, Scaglione can provide her services without having to worry about having space for sessions, or finding a permanent home for a clinic.
Scaglione, who has been a therapist for 30 years, said Miss Dot provides a practical solution to a common issue.
“See, with clinics or therapy at home or even having to have therapy in school, the problem everyone has always talked about is they don’t have time to bring their children to therapy — that they have to drive across town or sit in waiting rooms or how do they juggle siblings.
“So, kids don’t always get the therapy they need for some of these reasons,” she said.
Also, if therapy is scheduled, it might occur during school hours — but many schools lack the space to accommodate the session, she said. Plus, if the session is held in a school, it costs more for parents who are often paying out-of-pocket for the much-needed therapy.
When Scaglione can bring the bus to the schools — the four she currently visits regularly with clients are Lutz Prep, Learning Gate Community School, Tampa Torah Academy and Corbett Prep — it costs parents less.
Miss Dot also provides a more private and sensory-friendly environment to work one on one with the patient.
“(Kids) love the bus because it’s something different about being on the bus and not some classroom or therapy room,” Scaglione said. “It’s usually something they’ve never seen before, so when they work, it doesn’t feel like work.
“I always like to make (therapy) fun,” she added. “That’s the No. 1 thing. If there’s no fun, especially when it comes to handwriting, then it just feels like school, and they might not pick it up as well. Therapy can and should be fun.”
Scaglione started seeing clients on the bus starting in August for the 2022-2023 school year, and will continue to hold sessions throughout the summer.
She mostly works with students to help them improve their handwriting ability, which is important for them to have success in schoolwork activities and to prepare them for life.
In traditional school settings, Scaglione says, there is less focus on proper handwriting technique nor the underlying motor and sensory skills required for success. Children then develop foundational skills for handwriting during their formative years as they play and explore while engaging their sensory awareness, gross motor skills and fine motor abilities.
That’s why it’s important to work with children at a young age, especially if they are diagnosed with dyslexia or dysgraphia, Scaglione said.
“When it comes to OT, it’s mainly about catching them up to where they need to be or what they need to do,” she said. “And then use creative ways to get (the therapy) to them.”
And Scaglione does get creative.
Miss Dot includes several swings, which are sensory-friendly, but she uses lessons more as games or fun activities to keep the children on track. She uses puppets such as Magic C Bunny or Sensory Sid, along with a fun voice, to help convey lessons.
“I do the voices, but it’s helpful in terms of (getting) kids talking,” she added. “(The puppets) can be strict when I can’t, and they’ll listen to (the puppets).”
Working on the bus is showing improvements in its young clients, such as Peter Bassil, a 7-year-old Carrollwood resident that attends Lutz Prep.
“My son has been working with Marla for about five months now,” Peter’s mom, Livia Fernandes, said. “The biggest thing, to me, was being able to come to you, because, first off, that’s genius — you skip the bureaucracy with the school, and I would have been charged for her to come into the school and every time there was OT (in school), it would charge her an extra 20% of what she’s charging me, so then I would get charged.
“But he needs the therapy,” Livia continued. “Working with Marla, we’ve seen the improvements in a short time. It’s a process and a journey.
“But he loves it! And as long as it works, I’m at the point where we will take anything that works, but this really does and he, again, loves it.”
Peter wholeheartedly agreed.
“It is a lot of fun seeing Ms. Marla,” Peter said. “I like seeing her because she has swings and because she has prizes that she gives me. I like getting those, but I like it when I get to get on the bus.”
A-Plus Handwriting Therapy Bus
Details: Meet Lutz resident Marla Scaglione and Miss Dot. Scaglione is an occupational therapist and Miss Dot is the 1999 shuttle bus she converted into a mobile occupational therapy (OT) clinic. She travels to a handful of local schools to offer her services. A+ Handwriting aims to help students improve their handwriting ability for success in schoolwork activities and life and other therapy services. Scaglione is a Gardiner/FEZ-UA Direct Bill Provider through Step-Up-For-Students and AAA scholarships. She doesn’t accept insurance at this time, but can provide OT services that can be submitted to insurance companies for reimbursement, if applicable.
Info: Visit APlusHandwriting.com.
Published June 21, 2023