Early intervention. Developmental delay. Autism. Terms that seem increasingly common. Occupational Therapist Christine Samy takes us through her typical day as she works alongside kids who may not fit the mold.
Little Sarah is twirling with gusto in her purple sequined skirt. When she sees me, she stops momentarily, rushes forward, hands flapping in delight and yells. “Me!Me!Me!”
Just another energetic toddler, full of life and seeking attention.
But Sarah isn’t your average 3 year old. Unlike her peers, Sarah only wants to keep twirling. She isn’t interested in crayons or paints or even sitting down. Kids her age are usually adept at conversation but Sarah struggles to say more than three words and refuses to use the toilet.
“She just twirls all day and her Mum and Dad are pretty upset that she never brings home a drawing,” the room leader at her childcare centre laments. The plea is unspoken but from my experience, I know what many parents and teachers want from a therapist like me – can you help us fix the problem? Fix Sarah.
Sarah is smart although it’s not obvious because of the challenges she faces. I listen to the room leader and remember the things we’ve learned about Sarah before. She loves routines and clear expectations, broken down into small, discrete steps that allow her to experience success.
I join Sarah in twirling.
“She just twirls all day and her Mum and Dad are pretty upset that she never brings home a drawing.”
As human beings, we are wired for our survival and the survival of our loved ones. Parents in particular would understandably do anything to see their kids thrive. Modern medicine – and the plethora of alternative therapies - has added to our hopes – there’s a pill for almost every ailment you could think of, plus supplements to give you that added advantage.
In this context, I understand the expectation for a cure for a child who doesn’t develop “like they should”.
However, a holistic approach to therapy is about far more than fixing ‘a problem’ that supposedly needs fixing. It isn’t about curing a child or attempting to mould them into someone other than their wonderful selves.
As a therapist, I recognise every child’s potential and ultimately work to extract the most magic from them.
Therapy supports a child to feel that they are valued in their own right and that they wholly belong to their community.
We support parents and families to learn a different perspective, to help them recognise and be proud of their child’s unique way of existing in the world.
In fact, most of what I do is interact with the most important people in a child’s life – their families, teachers and even their friends. It’s working with this ‘circle of support’ to understand what motivates a child, what their strengths and interests are and what frustrations and limitations are obstacles to these children just being children.
But what does this therapy stuff look like and how do these words, visions and ambitions translate to helping little Jonah to sit up by himself or to Wafa being able to communicate that she is hungry?
Indeed, the nuts and bolts of therapy are gritty, down in the sandpit strategies to help little hands and feet do what they want to do and go where they want to go.