Children with special needs of all kinds throughout central New Jersey have a place to go to have their needs addressed. The place? Pediatric Rehabilitation Center, located right here in Hillsborough.
Open since 2001, Kidz on the Move was started by Michele Diaz-LaManna and a business partner who later had to withdraw from the business due to health reasons. However, that turn of events did not stop Diaz-LaManna from continuing on with her calling as a pediatric therapist.
“Of (my) 24 years (as a therapist), 23 and a half have been exclusive to pediatrics,” Diaz-LaManna said. “I graduated from Russell Sage College in Troy, NY with a specialty in pediatrics and knew from my freshman year in high school that I wanted to be a physical therapist working with children.”
This calling was due in large part to a family situation. Diaz-LaManna had a cousin who was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy during childhood. Immediately, this made Diaz-LaManna want to do everything she could to assist all people—particularly, children—in similar situations.
“He passed away two years ago this month, but he always was and remains my inspiration to help those with special needs, especially kids,” Diaz-LaManna said.
After her cousin passed away, Diaz-LaManna decided to honor his memory by setting up a scholarship through Kidz on the Move. The scholarship, named the Michael Francis Memorial Scholarship, is awarded every year to a graduating student at
“(The scholarship) is offered to a graduating student with special needs that will either be moving on to college, a work program or group home,” Diaz-LaManna said. “There are so many scholarships offered to the regular education seniors, but not much out there for these kids.”
The scholarship is just one of the many services offers for special needs children from six New Jersey counties. Children from Somerset, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Mercer, Burlington and Union Counties can take advantage of services including pediatric physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech-language therapy. The center has also recently added tutoring in the Wilson Program and Orton Gillingham Approach. However, that’s just the beginning.
“Specifically, we offer comprehensive evaluations and treatment,” Diaz-LaManna said. “Additionally, we offer Applied Behavior Analysis and Floortime for children on the autism spectrum. Also, we offer ongoing 10 week sessions of social skill groups as well as summer programs.”
Diaz-LaManna stressed the importance of being located in an area central to her client base. Diaz-LaManna, who is a Hillsborough resident, noted the large amount of special needs families who live in Hillsborough and the surrounding area.
“It was important for me to have my office here. I believe in helping kids and families in my community,” Diaz-LaManna said. “We are centrally located and easy to access. Hillsborough is very family-oriented and also has a high number of families with children with special needs.”
Diaz-LaManna’s passion for helping children with special needs seems to have rubbed off on her children in recent years. Her oldest daughter, a freshman at Misericordia University, is majoring in speech-language pathology and wants to specialize in pediatrics. Additionally, Diaz-LaManna’s youngest daughter is a sophomore at who, with help from her mother and the Hillsborough Jr. Raiders, helped develop a cheerleading program specifically designed for special-needs students.
“We contacted the Hillsborough Jr. Raiders, and she and I introduced the first special needs cheer program in the county,” Diaz-LaManna said. “She did all of the choreography and I adapted it to meet the needs of the girls. We had so much fun with the girls and they were so well received by the community.”