Brunel University London is a research led institution and as such we teach our students using the latest research in children’s occupational therapy practice. We have formed partnerships with local schools to create opportunities for our students to learn.
Aside from compulsory placements, it is important for our students to undertake volunteering opportunities with service users. This provides them with an avenue to relate the knowledge and theory they are developing in lectures to a ‘real life’ context. They can utilise their experiences to strengthen their communication and clinical reasoning skills. They can experience failure (eg. a communication strategy seeming to fail with a child). Instead of a grade being attached to the experience, they can use the feedback they received from the service user, and how they felt about the experience, in order to adapt how they will act the next time.
We have recently formed a partnership with a local charity, Hillingdon Autism Care and Support (HACS). There are a whole host of potential projects to arise from this partnership, from developing Autistic adults’ employability skills, to facilitating education groups for local parents of children and young people with Autism.
Our pilot project: developing friendship
Our pilot project has involved a group of our students delivering group occupational therapy intervention to a group of local young women, ranging from 14 to 21. Our primary focus has been developing friendship. All of the young women have personally identified goals around friendship – be that knowing what to say when they meet someone new, or understanding what is involved when you have a friend. We recognise the importance of friendship as an occupation, and the value these young women place on it. The Rural Tea Rooms has kindly facilitated us to use their coffee shop after hours. This creates a natural environment in which to develop relationships, but offers the advantage of having reduced sensory demands due to having the place to ourselves. Together with the young women, we have developed a social toolbox. Using these toolboxes, it is hoped the young women will develop confidence in their social interaction skills, and be empowered to generalise these new skills in their everyday life. Role play, explicit teaching, and video modelling have been used as interventions to support the young women. The students have had copious opportunities to develop a range of skills and knowledge. The staff from HACS have been invaluable in offering feedback and strategies to the students. They have reflected upon and developed their own communication skills, in particular the reduced use of abstract language and the importance of clear task instructions and direct requests. They have shown an improved understanding of Autism, and its impact on these young women’s everyday roles and routines. Both the students and service users are particularly looking forward to our end of term ‘mocktails’ night!
The Hillingdon Manor School project
During Term 1, a selection of our students from all year groups partnered up with Hillingdon Manor School- a specialist setting catering for children and young people with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our students and the school pupils together planned and prepared a Festive Foods and Drinks Social for 100+ of our department staff and students, which took place here on campus.
The pupils from Hillingdon Manor School participate in weekly ‘cooking’ lessons. Some of them will go on to take GCSEs in Food Technology, other will develop vital skills such as problem solving, coping with a busy environment, and planning and sequencing. Our OT students joined these lessons, where they learned the end product was not our target. The focus was on supporting the pupil to both enjoy and participate in the process.
The day itself was a huge success, with 100+ happy customers. The OT students remarked on the confidence the pupils exhibited in a daunting new environment, and they could clearly see the value of the pupils being facilitated to take ownership over a role. We also received similar feedback from parents of the pupils involved: “He came home with a sense of accomplishment – I think he gets that he did something special today”.
Our OT students are keen to take on their next volunteering opportunity and continue to develop their knowledge and skills. During Term 2, a selection of our students will be facilitating a community-based group for local female teenagers with a focus on enhancing these young peoples’ participation in teenage occupations – watch this space!