Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Something I Learned in OT School


It’s hard for me to believe but I often hear how hard it is currently to get into OT programs; that there can be 1,000 or more applicants for a class of 30 students. When I applied to occupational therapy programs in five states and got on the waiting lists for two of them I thought I was doing pretty well, considering my meager track record in school. In 1975 OT was a fairly unknown program amongst my peers and I had no clue what to expect when I sent off my applications.

Within the first week of the program I realized how smart my classmates were and how competitive the classes were going to be. There was no mandate to cut any of us to reduce class size (twenty) but the quizzes and exams were brutal. Despite the pressure to do well I loved what we were learning—how the body is put together and works. It was pure delight to see how we are wonderfully made.

Several of the students lived together and studied together so I was not surprised when Jen approached me about joining up to review notes. She said she was having a hard time and could use a study buddy. So, we got together several times a week and she mainly wanted me to explain the material to her. A win-win, right?

Well, no. I thought reviewing the material with Jen would be a good reinforcer for me and we’d both do well on the quizzes and tests. Half true. She got A’s and I got C’s, D’s and F’s. How could I make such poor grades when I loved the subject and studied all the time? I went to my professor and asked.

He told me to memorize everything. Understanding was great but I needed to memorize. I did what he said, pulled up my grades and passed the course with a “C.” I stopped studying with Jen, too. She wasn’t manipulative, she just needed reassurance. Even without me she continued to get “A’s.”

Is there anyone in your life you’re helping who doesn’t need it? It’s nice to be needed but can the person become independent if you help them less, then even less, then hardly at all?

One of these cherubs is an OT 2B

The job of parents is to push their kids out of the nest. The job of kids is to drive parents so crazy they can push them out of the nest. The job of friends is to help each other in bad times and enjoy each other as equals the rest of the time. The job of husbands and wives is to love and care for one another but still promote independence and competence in the other person.

To develop skills in another person so they can stand on their own two feet, without you, is to value and love them. Sometimes I need to busy myself somewhere else while the person I love flops about in the bottom of the boat. To give them time to figure things out, for themselves.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

A Tribute to My Peds Professor, Eleanor V. Wolfe

In a very unexpected way I found out that my peds professor and friend, Ms. Wolfe, had died last November.  Her friendship was a major force in my life.  I hope you have a friend like her, who is a real encourager and steady example of a well-lived life.

It was a modest-sized office, yet still intimidating, and each square inch was filled with the personality of its gray-haired professor. On that fall day in 1976 I had been called in for an appointment with the faculty member who would become my research adviser. I was just thankful for summer to be over because I had narrowly passed the daunting Human Anatomy and Physiology class with Dr. Jeffries. Yes, thankful, because halfway through the class I had been failing.

The professor discussed my classwork and progress to date, then took a dramatic pause before remarking, “I see that you earned a ‘C’ in your A & P class.” Another pause. Ms. Wolfe looked at me straight on, then set me on the path to enlightenment, “You won’t be earning any more ‘C’ grades, will you?”

She remained an inquirer throughout her life, even with people who were not her assigned pupils. One night I returned home from a meeting and my husband passed along the message that Ms. Wolfe had called. He told her I was at an “SI” study group and she asked him if he knew what “SI” meant. Like any long-suffering spouse of a pediatric occupational therapist, yes, he was very familiar with the term “Sensory Integration.”

Ms. Wolfe and I kept up our snail mail correspondence for many years and, although her messages were brief, she frequently included responses to my previous notes that encouraged me to try new ideas, consider novel activities and to increase my depth of knowledge of subjects we both enjoyed. I might pen a breezy description of my sitting outside on summer evenings, watching the birds, and she would write back with the name of a suggested birding journal, one with a more objective, scientific slant than the glossy ones I might usually flip through. In a very positive way I felt like she saw me as a person who was capable of becoming a better student of life, one who would never lose the potential for learning and growth.

To have her as a friend felt like you had someone who not only cared about you but a fellow traveler who was by your side, lightly supporting your elbow to encourage you to keep going, to imagine and try new adventures of all kinds. Each time I collected the mail and saw her striking block print on the envelope I knew I was in for a treat, first with her lovely watercolor sketch of a bird and then in reading her message inside. Isn’t it amazing that a person can do this by simply writing a letter to someone, that caring can be perceived by holding a small, hand-painted card and reading words that start in the heart, take form in the brain and are scribed by our hands?

I’m thankful that Ms. Wolfe--my friend, Eleanor--was my mentor for life as an OT. For her part in teaching so many of us the skills we needed for the job of living.

Statue from campus of the Medical College of Virginia, now Virginia Commonwealth University.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

What Happens to OTs When They Retire?

They continue to practice team building, healthy interpersonal relationships and activities for expanding their social-emotional skills.  Oh, and they get a puppy, which results in improved endurance, muscle tone and lower BMI.

Peace in the Family---Our Trip to the Outer Banks, NC

High Touch--Low Tech

Friday, June 16, 2017

The End is Near--And I'm So Glad

This has been a very happy week for me because I've been looking forward to today, my final day of employment.  Having graduated from OT school in '78 that makes it almost 39 years of working as an OT.  Although I did work a couple of years in another field I felt like I never stopped seeing people's needs through the OT lens.

Being an OT is the best job to have because it helps you so much personally.  Whether you have little ones at home and you're savoring their development day by day or you have a family member who is going through a health battle, OT helps you help others.

This blog will stay up for a while and some of the ideas and activities will remain relevant for OT students, practicing therapists and others looking for ways to help kids learn.  I recommend that you enter a specific topic in the Search textbox in the right-hand column on the page and peruse the posts that relate to that subject.  There are many posts on Autism, Fine Motor, Sensory and School--as well as other assorted subjects.

Retirement equals:
   No more paycheck
   Lots more living

Advice from a retiree:  Invest a little money from every paycheck, live below your means, keep reading and learning, relish feeling awkward and clueless because it means you are growing,  give lots of money and skills away to others in need, figure out why you're here on the earth--if you don't know why, read the Bible for clues.

Chasing preschoolers through the maze

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Rox, 'Pots 'n Roses

Well, if you want to make a retiring OT happy, just give her a party full of rocks, teapots and flowers.

Teapot centerpieces with sweet 'n savory dainties all around.

Our OT with British roots advised the planning committee on just the right brand of tea to serve.

Hmmm...wonder what our presents will be???  My PT buddy and I could hardly wait to find out.

When life gives you rose petals, sprinkle them all around.

My gift--azurite with bubbly malachite.  Rocks--the gift that lasts!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Perfect Good-bye Activity for Retiring OTs

At the end of our session yesterday with a class of middle school students with intellectual disabilities, the students and staff arranged a very nice send-off for their retiring OT.

The therapist was given a pretty water and marble-filled vase and was guided around the work table to receive a flower from each student.  By the time the circuit was completed the vase was full.

Pretty special, I'd say.

Plant Markers--the Homemade Way

When I peruse the gorgeous, hand-crafted plant markers at my favorite botanic garden gift shop every summer, I'm so tempted to shell out my hard-earned pennies so I can take home a beautiful decoration for the garden.  If I resist temptation I eventually remember that I can create my own markers with the multitude of materials I've purchased for my work projects over the school year. I have enough money to buy a nice coffee at the Garden CafĂ©.

For our final project this school year our class of middle school students with significant intellectual disabilities painted sun and strawberry shapes to adorn huge tongue depressors, inscribed with motivating words and designs.  The blank designs were made from solid white Sculpey and baked prior to painting.  Customized messages were written on the wood and the painted shapes were attached to the tongue depressors with regular wood glue.

Students used their communication boards to describe the materials needed and then indicated which paint colors they wished to use.  They all turned out pretty nice, eh?
Completed markers on top of the blanks.

Use the end of a paint brush or tip of a pencil to dimple the strawberry prior to baking.

Stretch yourself--use more than one color to paint your sun.

One-inch wide foam brushes work well for a smooth application. 
The 1/4" diameter handles are fairly easy to grasp, or can easily slide into a universal cuff.

Use a personalized phrase for inspiration.

Can you tell that this student loves music by Michael Jackson?

Add a little tag and ribbon, then figure out a way to send them home safely in the backpacks!