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Life as an Occupational Therapist at Dawn House School

Occupational Therapists (OT) do life-changing and important work for children with speech and language communication needs (SLCN). Two OTs at our Dawn House School, Lucy Geden and Sophie Cockell talk about what a regular day in the life of an OT entails!

The Occupational Therapy team at Dawn House School consists of two Occupational Therapists and three Occupational Therapy Assistants. The aim of Occupational Therapy is to promote health, well-being and the quality of life of pupils through participation in meaningful activities. Occupational Therapy aims to enable pupils to overcome individual barriers, promote participation in everyday activities, promote independence and enable each individual to achieve their full potential.

The Occupational Therapy team at Dawn House School work flexibly with a person-centred approach to meet the individual’s needs. Occupational Therapy can help in a range of ways including developing skills for the class room such as fine and gross motor skills, attention, listening, concentration, planning and sequencing, developing skills for independence such as dressing, cooking and independent living. Some of the current groups we are running include: handwriting, swimming, fine motor, driving theory, independent travel, independent living and therapy dogs.

OT Week

Occupational Therapy week is held annually across the U.K to promote the awareness and understanding of the Occupational Therapy role. Occupational Therapists can often work amongst diverse multidisciplinary teams and across a huge range of specialities such as paediatrics, dementia, brain injury, hand therapy, learning difficulties, trauma and orthopaedics to name a few so promoting awareness of the specific role in various settings is important to continue excellent therapy provision. For Occupational Therapy week 2018, the Occupational Therapy team at Dawn House School organised a daily whole school walk of 1,000 steps to help pupils regulate their sensory systems to promote engagement (in lessons and activities) and learning. Walking is also beneficial to encourage pupils to have a healthy lifestyle and “being active” and “connecting with other people around you” are two of the steps to mental well-being promoted by the NHS. We also ran an assembly for the whole School to raise awareness and remind pupils and staff what Occupational Therapy is and the areas Occupational Therapists can help with.

Two Occupational Therapists and one of the Occupational Therapy Assistants at Dawn House School attended the Occupational Therapy Show 2018 at the NEC Birmingham recently. They were able to network with other Occupational Therapists, attend talks around postural seating assessments, using sport to motivate children in therapeutic input, life skills programme research, children with eating disorders, assessment tools and modulation. Sensory modulation allows the filtering of sensations so that attention can be paid to those that are important and those unimportant ones can be ignored. Also throughout the day the Occupational Therapists liaised with equipment providers looking at the latest products. We are very committed to continuing our professional development, keeping up to date with the current evidence base and innovations.

A Typical Day

An example of a day in the life of an Occupational Therapist at Dawn House School is that we attend the whole staff briefing sessions in the morning and after school to discuss any current issues and learning about any visitors or meetings happening throughout the day. We then go to prepare for our sessions which may be a 1:1 Sensory Integration session.

We work with pupils in the Sensory Integration room where they engage in activities such as obstacle courses, spending time in the various swings, bilateral coordination activities which is the ability to use both sides of the body in a smooth and coordinated manner. Deep pressure activities are incorporated towards the end of the session such as squashing with a therapy ball, weighted blanket time, wall presses and wall squats and relaxation techniques such as deep breathing. These activities provide proprioceptive input (body awareness and positioning in space) which helps the pupils to regulate and be ‘just right’ and learning ready to access the classroom.

We run handwriting groups where there is a focus around working on crossing the mid-line which is the ability to move hands, feet and eyes not only together but across the other side of the body, crossing the mid-line requires the involvement of multiple skills including body awareness, hand-eye coordination, muscular strength and brain communication. There is also a focus around bilateral coordination, letter formation, speed of writing and visual motor integration. This is the degree to which visual perception and finger-hand movements are coordinated, in order to translate visual information into a motor response (movement). This group always starts with a warm up to warm the arms, hands and fingers which can include activities using play dough or different hand exercises and stretches.

We also run swimming groups and during these sessions we look at swimming from a sensory perspective. The pupils in the swimming group identify their feelings pre-swimming and complete activities in the pool to provide vestibular (movement) and proprioceptive (body awareness and positioning) input. This includes activities such as hard kicking against the water, presses at the side of the pool and floating. During these sessions there is a focus on bilateral coordination and motor planning and post session the pupils identify how they are feeling.

At lunchtimes we support the pupils in the dining room with eating their lunch in terms of ensuring their seating position is appropriate, they can sequence their motor skills for eating and that they have their adapted cutlery.

We might also attend meetings with other multi professional’s and parents around the OT needs of the pupils.  There is also the opportunity to share our knowledge with staff and parents and work collaboratively with the team both in the school setting, the residential area and at home through advice and resources.

We are very excited to offer a Saturday Workshop which explores Sensory Integration (SI) further. This is for parents, professionals and anyone interested in SI and will take place on 8th June 2019 at Dawn House School, Rainworth, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire.