Friday, October 15, 2010

Why We Become Occupational Therapists

My name is Cumba Siegler, and I work as an Occupational Therapist (OT) for the Santa Cruz City Schools in California. I’ve been invited by Achievement Products to contribute posts to this blog from time to time, for which I’m being compensated. I’m happy to do it because I see value in reaching out to my fellow OTs, teachers and parents.

What draws us to this profession?

Why do we work with children?

Why work in the schools?
Didn’t I already graduate?

Aren’t I done with the smell of peanut butter and wet mittens and white paste?

Because we love children, and we want to help them become the people they might become. Because our hearts leap when a child learns how to tie his shoes or cut out a circle, or print her letters on the line, and children want to show everyone what they have accomplished. We’re accomplishment junkies! We thrill to the cry, “I did it! Look me! Look me!” We don’t mind that children have learning disabilities, or autism, or motor difficulties; we want to dig in and help them master whatever is in their way. If we get paint, glue, yogurt, boogers or glitter on our clothes, well, it’s part of the job! And, we get to play with toys! We get to shop for toys, and figure out how children might use them to increase their skills, whether fine or gross motor, social or cognitive skills. We play with blocks , dough, beads, puzzles, tweezers, soft cuddle balls, vibrating animal shaped massagers, trampolines, crawling tunnels, craft items, and anything else we can buy for under a dollar. We will stay up late figuring out how to make some piece of cardboard into a template so a child can learn to trace their name onto a box and keep fidgets inside their desk. We save straws to have children cut up and make into beads. We buy battery operated drills to put together vehicles and try our best not to help the children do it, so they can learn to do it themselves. We sit on our hands so we won’t help. It looks like we’re not doing anything, but we’re carefully watching how the child approaches the task, and how he seems to feel about it. We look at his facial expressions and body language: are they scrunched up? Relaxed? Vibrating with anxiety, or joy, or ambivalence because he has to go to the bathroom but doesn’t want to leave the project, even for a minute? We know how to assemble that truck or do that crayon rubbing, but we have to wait and let the children figure things out for themselves. We can tell them, it’s ok to ask me for help, or model it for them; “Can you help me, please?” The best part is when children figure out how to do something, and they let out a happy sigh. It’s magic!

Quiz: Are you a school-based OT?
*Does your heart leap when you see a yard-sale sign?
*Do you observe how children move and play and interact all the time
(on the street, in the store, at the playground with your own children?)
*Do you ask children where they got that cool toy, then rush out to get it?
*Do you talk shop constantly with other therapists?
*Do you have 10 or more toy catalogs you pore over with longing?
*Are you thrilled to sit down to paperwork? (trick question)
*Do you own more toys than your local toy store?
*Are you called by your name across the playground over and over, to be
waved at?
*Do you know all the words to “Baby Beluga?”

And so begins more exploration, playfulness and growth; a labor of love. I'm ready.


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