When working with little people leads to big lessons
Occupational therapy has always been one of those jobs – the kind where most people aren’t too sure what it’s all about. It’s not quite physio, but it’s about more than speech therapy. It’s regularly associated with rehabilitation, but it’s not limited to just helping people with their jobs as the name might suggest.
“Like a lot of people, I didn’t really know what OT was,” said recent graduate Stephanie Campbell. As a newly employed occupational therapist with the Southern Autistic School in Victoria, her responsibilities reveal how she’s using OT to make a difference.
Stephanie wanted to use her degree to work with children after volunteering at a special needs school in Sri Lanka.
“Working with those gorgeous children encouraged me to focus on young people with disabilities, particularly autism,” she said.
“At Southern Autistic School I work with about 100 young people, aged from three to 18. Most days, I’m working with the kids on school-based tasks such as handwriting, seating and posture, sensory processing and community access. As well as on self-care skills like toileting, dressing, grooming, and hygiene, helping them adjust to changes in their routines or environments, social skills development, feeding, and play.”
“Most of my students have a severe language delay and around 70 per cent use an augmentative or alternative method of communication to get their needs and wants met.
“It’s very difficult for our students to understand instructions and it can be hard for them to complete a directed task or learn a new skill.”
But seeing the impact she’s making as an OT is what brings Stephanie the most satisfaction.
“Recently, I was working with a seven-year-old boy who was moved from a mainstream school to mine. I thought I was meant to work with him on his handwriting and letter formation, but I soon realised his anxiety was the real problem,” she said.
“He had a meltdown during the first few sessions with me and his teachers reported that handwriting tasks in class led to screaming, crying, and throwing everything off the table. My idea was to incorporate his favourite movie, Trolls, into one of our sessions. This led to laughs, giggles, and eventually completing seven pages of writing. Now, he’s much happier. Whenever he sees me he asks if we can do writing together. It’s such a fantastic improvement and it delights me to see how motivated he’s become.”
“Children with autism are all unique, so once I have understood each student individually, I can work with them to reach their potential.”
Stephanie Campbell completed a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at ACU.