In my final year of my Occupational therapy Masters’ degree, my friends and I went to the National OT conference put together by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists. During the conference I re-activated my Twitter account from my undergrad years to follow the live tweets, and realized how much action there is from the Occupational therapy community on twitter.
Since then I have had the opportunity to connect with many OTs from all over the world, and discover what people are talking about outside of my niche. OTalk is one of the Twitter accounts that I follow – each week (starting back up in January) they have someone host a talk where people tweet about different topics relating to OT. The topics are always very relevant and capture my attention, however when I discovered this topic that I missed the live tweeting for, I had to share
For the Last #OTalk of 2021, we have @OT_Expert hosting here is what they had to say….. Join us 8pm on twitter check out our guild explaining how to join in if you’re unsure. Health and social care practitioners are typically vocational in their work, prioritising high quality person-centred care and support, helping the client […]#OTalk 14th Dec 2021 – How Neurodivergent-affirming models of practice benefit all — OTalk
The week of December 14th, the topic was about neurodivergent affirming models of practice and how our current health care system is based off of neurotypical individuals and what works for them. I won’t go into the information they shared in their post because you can click on the link above and go check it out, and see the posts they interacted with on their twitter feed. But I wanted to share this topic because it is something that I have found myself and my friend from OT school talking about a lot throughout the start to our practice especially with the pandemic.
Most of the children and young adults that I work with and have worked with since I graduated in 2019 have a diagnosis of autism or ADHD (or both). I dove into pediatric practice with only my previous experience working with children outside of the therapy profession, and the single pediatric course we took in school. It didn’t take me long to realize that nothing I learned in school would be functional in my practice because, just like the OTalk discusses, everything was based off of neurotypical individuals and created by adults.
The children that I work with in my full time job are labelled as problematic, non compliant, difficult children…. but when they start working with myself and our interprofessional team, they thrive. I could never figure out why this was, or why I had to work so hard to create my own assessments and interventions to be successful for my clients, until I listened to Meg Proctor’s podcast – Two sides of the Spectrum (she also has an awesome website: Learn Play Thrive). In this podcast she interviews individuals with autism (occupational therapists, researchers, other professionals) about their experiences, and this is when I learned that the reason I had to work so hard but then was so successful with my clients was because I was changing my approach to work WITH neurodiverse brains instead of trying to mold them to a neurotypical style of practice. For example, I almost never practice handwriting by repeating letters over and over, because my clients don’t see the purpose in that and it doesn’t have a solid ending. Instead, I will create fun games, get the kids to create and write stories, or make comic books and then help correct their writing during these activities.
Another strategy that I find works very well with a lot of my clients is providing them with explanations and the ability to ask questions so they can understand what is expected of them or why we are doing things. This also allows me to rephrase things they don’t understand because of their black and white thinking, so that they can be successful. For example, instead of drilling it into one of my clients head over and over that she needs to be respectful to others, we had a conversation and realized she didn’t connect the word respectful the same way that most people do because of societal norms. By opening my mind to the way she thinks and getting her to work with me through this challenge, I was able to rephrase and reexplain what we were working on and how to be respectful, and she has been so successful!
I could talk forever about this because as an occupational therapist who works with neurodiverse clients every day, and has discovered that I relate more to them than I realized, this is a huge passion for me. However, I would rather have you visit Meg Proctor’s website, listen to her podcast, and check out the OTalk link up above to get your brain thinking about it.
In reflection of all the jobs I’ve had, the clients I’ve worked with and the other Occupational therapists I’ve chatted with, I think the one thing that I hope you take away from this, is REGARDLESS of anyone’s diagnosis or lack of diagnosis, we need to work harder and be better at working with each individual as a unique person. Occupational therapists often fall victim to following the set systems that we learn in school or are given when we start a new job, but we forget that the experts we need to collaborate with most are our clients. Even if your client is not diagnoses as neurodiverse, consider that the standardized assessments or interventions you know may not fit someone’s physical, mental, emotional beings, they may not connect with their beliefs, values, cultures or spirituality, and they may try so hard to please you by being successful, that they don’t take away what they need to from your sessions. So please, listen, keep learning about people’s lived experiences, and be open to changing your idea of OT to meet your clients where you are at.
If you have opinions on this topic, related experience as a therapist or stories as a client, please share in the comments, I always look forward to learning from the people around me and hopefully others will learn as well!