15 years pediatric school based and preschool occupational therapist
Establish a strong foundation. Work with strengths, but don't avoid weaknesses. Create positive learning cycles and continue to progress.
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I became an occupational therapist to impact the world in a positive way, while still being able to make a living. Being an occupational therapist for the last 15 years has been challenging and rewarding. In my career I have worked with children from early intervention age (birth to 3 years), preschoolers (3-5 years), and school aged students (5 to 21 years old). My job is to make these children/students as functional as possible in their environments. Each child has to be looked at individually and a treatment plan needs to be developed to suit their unique needs. This is not always easy. I have developed some pretty solid approaches to most of the problems that I deal with. I do have children that do not respond to my approach and this drives me to find a way in which they can make progress. I can get slightly obsessed with progress. At the beginning of my career I worked with severely physically and mentally involved children. This was an amazing opportunity to see first hand the challenges and impact that these children and their families face every single day of their lives. Humbling and inspiring. Making progress with these students was extremely challenging. Not impossible, but very challenging. Being that I was straight out of college and wanting to make a positive impact with my work, I found it very stressful to not see positive change in short periods of time. Over the course of a few years I was able to develop a very keen sense of what progress can mean, even in the littlest of intervals. Somewhere in this period of time I developed a (slight/sometimes more than slight) obsession with making progress with my students. It was also during this time that I started my journey towards developing my letter recognition program. I had been told by one of my supervisors that if we were to step back and look at what we ultimately wanted these children to get out of school, we wanted them to be able to read. Now being an occupational therapist, my focus was trying to get these children/students to write. At that point I was teaching children to write letters that they didn’t even know the names of. Now to be fair to myself, I was teaching them their names for the most part. We were working ultimately towards a functional signature. This is when I made letter recognition a part of my work. I was actually pretty good at it. I was able to develop an interest and intrinsic motivation inside of these children by demonstrating that they can be successful and that their success was repeatable. This is the cornerstone of my teaching philosophy. Success breeds success. No matter how far back we have to go developmentally, we need to find the place in which they can be successful and build from there. I call it finding a hand hold. Like climbing a cliff. If you can’t find that first hand hold, you aren’t going anywhere. When I started working for my current school district one of my first students was extremely challenging. Her speech was very difficult to understand. We were not sure if she was able to answer yes or no questions accurately. She had a difficult time walking, unable to hold a crayon or attend to any work and essentially was unable to do much of anything functionally. As one might imagine she was a frustrated little girl. Her favorite word was no. She didn’t want to do anything. I remember the first week or two being totally flummoxed and really didn’t know where to begin. In these 2 weeks I found 2 hand holds. The first one was a way to motivate her. She loved gummy fruit snacks and her mom packed them for her every day. My session was right around her snack time and she would have to do some kind of work in order to get those gummy snacks. The second hand hold was that she knew (for whatever reason) the letter X. This told me that she had the ability to recognize symbols. So we began the letter recognition journey. Withholding the gummy snacks, we would begin and I would either put the letters in alphabetical order or just drill and skill her with flashcards. Come to find out she did not have any one to one correspondence skills and her ability to remember letters through drill and skill was not working. After 2 weeks of this. Zero success. It was frustrating for me and for her. I remember this moment very clearly. During a session, in a slightly desperate and frustrated fashion, I held up the letter U. I said, “this letter looks like a smiley face”. (remember this child’s favorite word was no, so seeing a smile on her face was not what I usually saw) A slight smile appeared on her face when I said this. I said, “a smiley face just like you”. The letter is U. We went over this a few times, but to be honest I was optimistic about this approach, but not confident at all. So the next session, a day or two later, we set up our activity. I pull out the letter U, and without prompting and clearly she states “U”. Success!!!!! OMG!!!! So instantly in my head I am trying to figure out how that worked and how can I repeat that again with another letter. And so it began. Some letters were easy to come up with and some were really difficult. The alphabet is (to say the least) an imperfect system. It took about 8 months of this approach, and not that consistently as I was still trying to get her to color and draw. By the end of that school year she knew all of her uppercase letters and all of her lowercase letters. This was about 11-12 years ago, I was 26 years old at the time, and it is still the greatest accomplishment of my career. She went on to learn how to read. Now from then until now, when presented with a student that didn’t know their letters, I was always secretly excited to be able to use this method to teach them. I have been successful with many, many children using this method from 3 year olds to learning disabled second graders who didn't recognize their letters. It was never my “job” to teach these kids their letters. So I never told anyone about my approach. That is until November 4th, 2016. I was working with a student that knew 6 letters after being in kindergarten for 2 months. I was asked by a highly respected kindergarten teacher for help with a student. She was not that concerned about his fine motor skills, but really concerned about his ability to recall letters. So I picked him up for a session and worked with him for 10-15 min and then brought him back. I sat down with the student and the teacher and I showed her my technique. The teacher’s response was, “Oh wow. My brain doesn’t work like that”. That is when I realized that I had never shown this to anyone before. So in my head instantly I realized I could make a set of flashcards with the letter on one side and the way to teach it on the back. So this was a Friday. That night I went home and wrote down 3 pages on the program. I had rules and guidelines. This was a whole program that I had in my head. From there I went on to create a set of flashcards and in my spare time I created about 4 sets to share with the kindergarten classes. Within 5 days 2 classes were using my program. I was excited and confident, but nervous because I would not be the one teaching. Another teacher or teaching assistant would be using my concepts. So they started using my program on a Wednesday or a Thursday and within 2 days the progress was astounding. One student went from 16 letters to 26 letters in 2 or 3 days. Two other students improved 300% in 4 days. Such an exciting time for the teachers, students, their parents and me!!