The Power of Occupational Therapy
A cup. Its primary purpose is to hold beverages for people to drink. Others may use it to aid in arts and crafts projects, while some may use it as a holder for office supplies. Many would think this is the extent of a cup’s purpose, but not Amelia Jones.
Amelia is an occupational therapist (OT) within KSD and works at The Outreach Program (TOP). According to Genie Charvet, another OT at TOP, occupational therapy is a “science-driven, evidence-based profession that enables people of all ages to participate in daily living or live better with injury, illness, or disability. This is accomplished through designing strategies for everyday living and customizing environments to develop and maximize potential.” It is tough to describe an average day of an OT because their schedules vary pending on their students. TOP is a transition program designed to prepare students for their future by providing community-based transition services to enhance post-school quality for students with disabilities. This includes students being able to try three different job sites per year. Amelia and Genie visit students at these sites to observe and analyze their performance. Based on these observations, they create modifications and adapt the job to meet the individual student’s needs.
OTs work with students in the classroom as well. Genie led an activity that included beads and a keychain ring. This activity focused on creating a self-regulation tool that could help decrease anxiety and cope with stress. Genie shared that “the small movements made when feeling or moving the beads can be calming and serve as a distraction in an overstimulating environment.” This could also help students to stay focused or be more attentive. Genie shared that students could attach this fidget to a coat zipper, pocket, lanyard, or backpack. This is an example of a small but useful tool that students could utilize at their job site and in general.
Making modifications sometimes requires a little imagination and creativity. Angela Pahlow, a teacher at TOP, shared this experience in “Old Chair, New Chances,” an article she wrote for their school’s newsletter. Betwal, a relatively new student at TOP, has a disability that “restricts his brain’s ability to control most of his body movements but not his ability to think” (Pahlow). As a result, he has had to depend on others to carry him or push him in a manual wheelchair. Amelia and teachers Kristin Mazdzer, Andy Till, and paraeducator Mish Gibbs believed more could be possible for Betwal. The donation of a power wheelchair from the family of former TOP student Iqbal, who passed away last summer, made this possibility a reality. A week before spring break, Betwal gave the power wheelchair a test drive and drove two laps around TOP’s multipurpose room. Although the ability to move independently for the first time was exhilarating, Betwal was exhausted. The chair was not designed for his body and operated with a joystick. This was difficult for Betwal because he did not have the same hand dexterity as Iqbal, but he did have good control of his right elbow. “Amelia wondered, ‘What if Betwal could control the joystick with his elbow? What if his elbow WAS the joystick?’” (Pahlow). She then began sculpting a cup out of modeling clay and sent the measurements to her brother, Caleb Jones, “who used his 3D printer to print an elbow controller to attach to Iqbal’s chair” (Pahlow). Amelia secured the controller cup to the chair after spring break, and what a difference it made! Betwal’s smile lit up the room as he zoomed around the cafeteria with ease. He was ecstatic about his new independence, and joy was felt throughout the room (Pahlow).
Amelia, Genie, and all KSD OTs help to bring possibilities to life, which is the theme for Occupational Therapy Month this year. Amelia and Genie’s favorite part of being an OT is being able to dream big dreams with families and educational teams and making those dreams a reality, like with Betwal. The role of OTs is vital within KSD, and Amelia and Genie will be the first to tell you that it is a team effort. Together they can think of modifications and adaptations that will allow students with disabilities to live their best lives, utilize their strengths, and bring those modifications to fruition, whether it looks like a beaded key chain or even something as simple as a cup.