Creating that OT magic

Creating that OT magic

There is only a handful of people that Poss feels comfortable being left with. That list shrinks further if we’re talking about people who she’ll go to sleep for. But Lucy, she’s on that list and was one of the first outside of our family.

Lucy used to be our respite carer in those early days, when we were still trying to find our feet. She came to us from the council, assigned with no ceremony, a young Occupational Therapy student.

While the actual respite provided welcome and much needed relief, it was Lucy who left the lasting impression. In those few hours each week, she’d take the lessons we were tentatively learning at therapy (with our gorgeous OT, Kerri-anne) and help reinforce them.

Together they’d colour, craft and play, and in every giggle, there was a little bit of OT magic and I have no doubt that Poss was learning.

When we lost Lucy, first to the wilds of Africa, before she made the move to Darwin, I’m not sure who was more upset: me or Poss.

It’s Occupational Therapy week this week, so I figured it was timely to check in with Lucy (who now works at OT for Kids NT) and share some insights into what it is she actually does to create that OT magic…

1. What exactly is an OT?

That is a hard question to answer!!! OT can work in such a diverse array of fields, doing very different tasks, so it can be tricky to define what it is we do!

OT is occupational therapy, and people most often assume that means we get people back to work. That is something an OT can do, but it is a very, very tiny part of the workforce.

For OT’s, the word ‘occupation’ means any task or activity that ‘occupies’ our time. This includes every day self care tasks such as getting dressed, toileting, preparing meals, doing the housework. For most adults it also includes going to work, and leisure activities. For kids, we consider play and school.

When doing ‘therapy’, an OT will look at three areas – the person and their capacity to do the task, the environment they are doing it in, and the task itself. We work by finding where things are getting stuck, and either teaching the person new skills, modifying the environment they are working in or changing the demands of the task. Our aim is to help that person to be as independent as possible in completing tasks.

I am one of those rare OT’s – I work in private practice, and exclusively in Paediatrics. Even more specifically, most of my caseload is children under 5, with Autism. I work in Darwin, so the demographic is quite diverse and includes families with various cultural, linguistic and socio-economic backgrounds.

Often my role also includes some case worker and counselling, as there are limited services in Darwin and I am often the first contact with therapy that a child and their family receive.

2. What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

I often get accused of being too enthusiastic about what I do. I talk work to anyone who will listen, and I am passionate about advocating for my clients. I don’t think this is a problem- I love what I do! Being an OT is part of who I am, not just my job. So it makes it really easy to find meaning and satisfaction in my daily work.

What I love most is that when I help a child learn a new skill, they will be able to use that for another 70+ years. How cool is that? Decades from now, a dad will teach his son to tie his shoelaces, because of the work I did today. It is so satisfying to know something I did is making another person’s life better.

I love the moments of connection that makes all the repetition and coaching and waiting worthwhile. When a 4yr old finally says ‘go!’ after months of waiting on the swing. When a little girl uses the toilet for the first time. When I get eye contact and a wave goodbye. When a parent tells me, ‘I’m so glad we found you’. All these moments make it so worthwhile.

The best part though? When I tell a child and their parents that they don’t need me anymore. When a client graduates, that is my favourite.

3. What’s the hardest part?

I love what I do, but that’s not to say it’s easy. I work really hard. I really invest time and energy and emotions into my clients. I find it very frustrating when parents cannot continue therapy that their child needs because they can’t afford it. It is even more frustrating when that family could have access to funding support, but no one will diagnose them with the label the need to access funding.

It is really hard that sometimes I have to push to get a child a diagnosis. I hate having to label anyone- but within the health and education systems, it is the only way to get support. I think it should be standard for EVERY child to access early intervention. Even children who have typical development will benefit from early support, because then we can identify issues early, educate all parents and begin to normalise the idea of therapy. It would be far easier to support them to learn it the first time, rather than correcting things later on in life.

The hardest part of my job though, is when I can’t help. A good OT cares. We care about independence and success. Our entire philosophy is about helping people to be the best version of themselves they can be. So it breaks my heart when I can’t do that. And most often, it’s not because the child cannot succeed. It rarely is about the child at all. It is about the capacity of their family to support, the school they go to, where they live, the expectations of society.

The reality is, I am there only an hour a week, and I can’t fix everything. I can’t fix the disordered attachment, or the history of trauma or the family separation. I can’t make the teacher do something different when she has done it that way for 30 years. I can’t wave a magic wand and change the attitude of a community that says that kids with a ‘disability’ are a drain on society.

I can’t punch every person who says ‘oh, that must be such hard work’ with a pitying look in their eye when they ask what I do. It’s always a good idea to have an OT on your side, because we will always do our best to make sure our client has a right to the best life possible.

4. What made you decide to become an OT?

When I was a kid I wanted to be an archeologist. I also liked the idea of discovering some really old important thing. I go over that quickly as I’m not into dirt. Then when I got glasses, I fell in love with optometry. It was the magic of it – you go in half blind, and come out being able to see things!

It was from there that I decided something health related was for me. But I never really found anything that I was very keen on, because they all seemed too limited.

In year 10, an old uni friend of my mum moved into town. She had an English accent, a great pool and was super cool. She’s an OT, and was working at the time in vocational rehab; getting young adults with brain injury back to work. I was fascinated.

When she explained the general idea of an OT, and all the areas I could work in, I was sold. It fit all my criteria: helping people, needs a bachelor degree (I was definitely going to Uni for something), and so many diverse opportunities to use my skills.

At the time (and to this day) I was convinced that OT was going to be a very important and prestigious profession. I’m still working on the ‘taking over the world’ part, but certainly we as a profession are getting more and more exposure.

I went to uni with little idea of where I wanted to work. In second year I was so unimpressed by my Paediatrics lecturer (in hindsight she is amazing) that I was sure I did not want to work with kids. Not enough evidence, too sad when they can’t do things, too hard to work with families.

However, I still loved kids, so I took a job doing respite for families like the Buggs. I enjoyed working with these kids so much, and realised that Autism and cerebral palsy was not nearly as scary as I thought. It fairly well convinced me to get back into Paediatrics, and I’m so glad I did.

In fact, the experience I gained in my last 18 months of uni was what helped me get my job here in darwin 3.5 yrs ago. I am still using things I did with Poss then, today in my practice.

And working on the other side, even for just those few hours a week, I think has given me better insight into how to support the families and carers of my clients now.

5. What does a normal day look like?

My week varies throughout the term. Typically my clients will see me at a regular time each week or fortnight, and I usually also assess a new client at least every fortnight if not weekly.

At the moment, most of my clients are under 4, and with a level 2 or 3 ASD diagnosis. So for most morning sessions, I am working on play, engagement and interaction. I may spend 45 mins in the ball pit, or using the swing. Sometimes, I just spend the time answering questions for parents. Depending on the child, I’ll also include some basic turn taking games or fine motor tasks. I have a real interest in feeding therapy, so I do a lot of messy play. A good deal off my time out of therapy is spent cleaning up!

During the middle of the day it’s quieter, so this is where I will squeeze in lunch and some paper work. Other than writing progress notes and reports, we also do advocacy support, so writing letters to various organisations to help family, corresponding with teachers, and preparing home programs and visuals.

The afternoons I generally see older kids who are at school. These sessions to be more structured, with a focus on practicing routines, self-care skills, school skills (such as writing, play and social skills) and gross motor skills.

Essentially, I spend around 4-6 hours a day playing!

My days can be pretty hectic. Some days I get home and cry my eyeballs out because I just can’t help. Other days I’m practically buzzing because a child has done something amazing. I love what I do, and I’ll keep doing it until I need an OT myself!!

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  1. Beautiful Renee and Lucy. I never met Lucy but I heard plenty about her. From reading this I can see we both have so much passion and love for our kiddies and really there is no better feeling than “making a difference”. Such a joy seeing these little superstars grow. We love our jobs and your kids but most of all we love the mums, dads and carers who put the time, effort, money, love and who pop the learning cap on to do the best for their kids. I only need to my job, as the OT but you gorgeous mums need to wear all the hats, OT, SP, psych, mum, teacher and more.. Don’t you worry we know we have the best job and you work darn hard day in and day out! The funny part is I talk about “my kids” all the time and my nieces always tell everyone our auntie has heaps of kids! Lol

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