Mo. 39° / 66°
Ariz. 55° / 86°
Calif. 44° / 77°


The latest updates about ATSU news, current events, research, and more.

Still Magazine
ATSU Chancellor
Scholarly Activity
Museum of Osteopathic Medicine
Story Idea?

Story Idea?

Click here to attach a file

Shifting gears: An ATSU-ASHS alum’s nontraditional journey to occupational therapy

Sean Irwin, MSOT, ’18, with his Lightning McQueen replica at ATSU’s 2024 Spring Expo

For Sean Irwin, MSOT, ’18, the path to becoming a pediatric occupational therapist hasn’t been a straightforward one.

“I had jobs building mountain bikes, I had jobs building houses, I had jobs doing quality assurance for houses, I was a superintendent. I literally changed jobs, it seemed like every two years for so many years,” Irwin said. 

Born and raised in Abbotsford, British Columbia, Irwin recalls struggling in traditional school environments, always preferring hands-on classes and dreading test taking, specifically in math.

“I didn’t have a lot of direction,” he said, and often recalls thinking to his younger self, “‘I’ve got to sit down and take this test? Can I just build something or make something much better suited for me?’”

At 19, after serving a mission in Arizona for his church, Irwin returned home unsure of what he wanted to do next and chose to start taking classes at a local community college. While attending school, Irwin met his future wife, who was coincidentally from Arizona herself and had come to Canada to study at the University of British Columbia. 

Two years of long distance later, the pair married, and Irwin eventually joined his wife in Mesa, where he again found himself unsure of what career path to take.

In 2007, the couple made their first leap into entrepreneurship by establishing Suzy’s Swim and Fitness Zone, where Irwin’s wife, Suzy, teaches swimming and tumbling lessons out of their home. This decision would become the catalyst for Irwin’s foray into pediatric occupational therapy. 

“That’s when I really learned money doesn’t really matter. I need something that brings me meaning or I’m going to hate whatever I do, and it won’t matter how much money I make,” he said.

Through their in-home lessons, Irwin began working with several children with autism, which required him to take a different approach to teaching.

“These kids would constantly say, ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,’” Irwin said. “I was looking at them and I’m like, ‘Look, I know you can’t swim. I know that, but you have to start saying, ‘I can.’ 

“Because you’re saying no so much, your body won’t even let you try it, so you’re not allowed to say ‘I can’t,’ in my pool. You have to say ‘I can do this.’”

After these experiences, several parents encouraged Irwin to look into pursuing occupational therapy, but he was always discouraged due to his negative experiences in school.

“I was so nervous to sign up for school. It gave me, and I don’t mean any disrespect for someone who’s gone through something traumatic, but it was like PTSD in a way. I felt like such a massive failure,” he explained.

With a push from one student’s mom, who told him, “You’re being a hypocrite because you tell my kids every day, ‘You’re not allowed to say I can’t,’” Irwin enrolled in community college and would eventually graduate with a bachelor’s of science from Arizona State University in 2013. 

“I certainly would not have been able to get through all the schooling without my wife’s help and support and my daughter, Noel. Our twins were actually born right after graduation,” Irwin said.

Irwin and his family.

Irwin’s journey in ATSU-Arizona School of Health Sciences’ (ATSU-ASHS) Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program began with a recommendation from a friend and program alumni, and was also primarily nontraditional, with Irwin partially completing his work as a part-time student.

“The opportunities I was given to do fieldwork that was set up by the School was extremely helpful, and all of the hands-on and volunteer opportunities with the fall prevention course they had,” Irwin said.

Today, Irwin’s journey has brought him to Arizona Autism, where he currently works as an independent contractor under his LLC, the Rolling OT. In this role, he incorporates bikes, hippotherapy, and aquatic therapy into his therapy interventions, supervises two certified occupational therapy assistants, and has been a fieldwork supervisor for many OT graduate students. 

As the Rolling OT, Irwin also owns a Lightning McQueen replica, which he uses in his work and rents out for events, spreading joy in the form of a 2015 Dodge SRT with a six-speed manual transmission.

About once a month, he takes his clients and caregivers for a ride in Lightning McQueen, where his passengers can feel the the vibrations of the gearshift as Irwin shifts through the gears. In addition, Irwin brings the vehicle to fundraisers organized by local nonprofits such as Raising Special Kids and events such as ATSU’s annual Spring Expo.

“I use it as a sensory tool, and for mOTivation,” Irwin explained. “I’ve had multiple people at stoplights and grocery stores tell me that it made their day to see it. I’ve had a couple of grown adults tell me they were having the worst day and just by seeing my car it made their day better.”

“Not once have I ever thought, ‘I am quitting.’ I love this job. Almost not a day goes by that I’m like, ‘I get paid to do this stuff,’” he said. 

“You just have to find the best fit for you and not worry about anything else.”

Irwin with Brian Knowlton, therapy director, Arizona Autism, after receiving the organization’s therapist of the year award in January 2024.


Never miss out—get the feed today!