OOOh, this has apparently been Occupational Therapy week and I am immediately reminded of the lovely Jenny. She was my OT from way back. I think from when I was under a year old until she retired in my early teens. I know I still do things today she taught me.
Holding pens and writing
When I went to school Jenny came in to give advice on writing slopes, angles, and how to hold a pencil. These days I tend to hold a stylus, but guess what? It has a pencil grip on it to make it easier to hold. This morphed into computer access over time. And, now all the IT equipment on my desk or wheelchair is angled to make access easier. I use what I call a roly moley (tube of cotton filled with rice) rather than the angled desktop Jenny provided, they are just so much more portable. But they do the same jobs. Throughout school, Jenny was a frequent visitor, always the INSET day before school returned for a new year. Then as needed in the classroom, she was one of my favorite visitors, and I had many!
Using a straw, eating and drinking
For years Jenny had me blowing bubbles and sucking. Because of her, I can blow out candles on a cake and I have all my drinks through a straw. Jenny brought cutlery for me to try, and we worked on how to hold it. She advised on cups. Even how to pick up a cup and keep my lips closed to drink. We worked on picking up small things, often sweets in a pincer grip. Thanks, Jenny, these are essential life skills!
This was such a big thing getting it right in school, home, and later in my wheelchair. Taking a leaf out of Jenny’s book I still sit with my bottom back in my chair. And, 24 years later I am still using the same stacking wooden foot blocks provided when I was in nursery. This was so my feet can be firmly planted on a solid surface. I’ve learned over the years if my feet are not supported then I get backache, especially in my hips, and I’m a whole lot more wobbly. Oh, and luxury she got me a padded toilet seat!
Jenny was with me the day I tried my first powerchair (and my trike for school). Getting the powerchair was just amazing. I remember doing donuts and driving in circles for ages on the deck at home, just because I could. There was never any doubt I could effectively drive it. The biggest challenge was then getting the funding and the long wait. At 7 years old, Wheelchair Services wouldn’t give me a power chair (that came later for secondary school). So the charity-funded one eventually arrived when I was 8, nearly a year later.
Jenny sorted loads. For instance, my brand new primary school put in a disabled loo for me, only for us to find it was adult-sized, but she got it sorted! Then there were the grab rails for home so I could transfer. She advised on getting in and out of the car safely. When I got my new home we were able to think back to all her advice to make sure we got things positioned correctly.
Dressing and undressing
We spent ages working on dressing and undressing. Even today I find this nearly impossible except with very loose items. Jenny showed me a technique to pull my jacket or top over my head. This was so much easier than shuffling clothes off my shoulders, and again I still use this method today. Despite the hours of practice buttons were a no-no. I can undo a zip with a large loop or zip pull, but I cannot put the zip ends together. The zipz pull in the picture is one I designed with MERU that is washable, easy to hold, and works a treat for me. These days if I have an hour to spare and don’t need to conserve my energy I can get myself into a pair of PJs or wide jogging bottoms and t-shirt. All thanks to Jenny.
There were other things along the way too, like special scissors. Then access into the house and a portable bath seat before the specialist bathroom.
A valued ‘friend’
Over the years we saw so much of Jenny that when she retired we continued to see her for days out together. She was much more than an Occupational Therapy professional. She became a valued friend who had made a difference to my life, and Mum’s. So today when I think of an OT I think of Jenny, an amazingly kind, patient, and influential woman.
After Jenny retired I got a series of other OTs, all who did a great job. Sadly, as they passed through my life more quickly I cannot remember their names. They brought the specialist bathroom (with a funding fight), skinsuits, and new wheelchairs. But thank you anyway, each and everyone addressed a specific need and made things easier on a day-to-day basis. Being an occupational therapist is a valuable job.
Could I be an OT?
I was so inspired that for a time I thought I might train to be an Occupational Therapist specializing in AAC and assistive technology. The local community team was great and even arranged a work placement for me. But actually, I backed out of this at the last minute. Once I realised I couldn’t be a specialist OT without first doing the more generalist course I knew it would be physically beyond me. Knowing I would not find it easy to work on a ward or visit someone at home was too daunting. But the good thing was the local team was enthusiastic, saying ‘if OTs couldn’t make a work placement happen then nobody could’. I applaud their positive support and allowing me to explore what would be suitable for me.