Jane Koomar Laferriere – An Appreciation

March 5, 2013
Jane Koomar Laferriere
Jane Koomar Laferriere

Jane Koomar, PhD. was an internationally respected authority on Sensory Integration; a superb Occupational Therapist (OT); an entrepreneur; a visionary; a teacher; and a healer; as well as a mentor and colleague for many OT’s.  She co-founded and was president of the Sensory Processing Institute for Research and Learning (SPIRAL) Foundation, a non-profit research and education organization that helps individuals with Sensory Processing Disorders (SPD) and related diagnoses to lead more productive and enjoyable lives. A devoted mother and wife, Jane is survived by her husband John Laferriere, son Matthew and daughter Amy Laferriere, of Bedford, as well as extended family, both nearby and across the country.

A memorial service will be held at First Parish in Bedford at 3 pm on May 4. In remembrance of Jane Koomar, those who wish may make a contribution to the Spiral Foundation, at the following web address:  www.thespiralfoundation.org,

The SPIRAL Foundation, Newton, posted this appreciation of Jane Koomar:

Dr. Koomar, was 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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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

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March 6, 2013 8:06 am

Oh dear! I took my kids to OTA in Watertown, and bought a couple of Dr. Koomar’s book to give to the kid’s pre-school teachers and shrink. Her work brought healing into the chaos of dealing with sensory integration problems. May her name be as a blessing.

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