Head of Occupational Therapy Anne Wendt sees the huge difference that an allied therapy team can make to the lives of disabled people. With 10 years’ experience at Nash, she describes why she still finds the job so fascinating.
Can you outline what an occupational therapist (OT) does?
In a nutshell, an OT helps the disabled person be as independent as possible in the activities of daily living and anything else they need to do to live a fulfilling life.
What do you love about your job?
I love that the job is never the same, there are no two students who are alike. Everything we do is very holistic, and it’s guided by what the person needs, not limited by what the service can provide. We have a great OT team, and we work really well together and with the other therapies on site – psychology, physiotherapy, speech and language therapy and complementary therapy.
How does having an on-site, allied therapy team benefit students?
My colleagues and I each work with a specific group of people and we can get to know them really well. Because the team is here, we work very closely with education provision, so if there’s a problem, we can meet quickly and decide what we need to do together as a team to get that student to where they want to be. We work very flexibly and responsively – I would say we probably have different OT provision for each of the students here at Nash.
What is the impact on disabled people who don’t get the benefit of an allied therapy team?
Well, provision in most special education schools usually comes half from the NHS, with someone who comes in to look at health needs, and then they might have a therapist on site who only looks at education needs. The perception of this is it’s often very bitty and isn’t timely, isn’t flexible and doesn’t meet the person’s needs. Parents are always very pleased to know that we are based at Nash and only work with Nash students.
Describe some of the approaches you take
For someone with profound learning disabilities and physical needs, one area we would look at is functional seating. The person might or might not be in a wheelchair, but often there is an alternative way to sit so they can access different things. It may be an alternative chair or a gym-ball, where they can sit up, take a bit more control and work at their best.
For someone with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), getting the sensory needs and preferences of the student is one of the most important parts of our job. We’re working with people who are so sensory that if the environment isn’t right to start with, you can’t really build on anything else. So, if the kitchen is too bright, there’s no point in trying to show somebody how to make a cup of tea. We’ve changed the guidelines this year for this kind of assessment, working with the National Autistic Society, to have a baseline list of sensory needs and preferences for every student, and then on top of that, to work with the education staff to say, ‘what else do you need that you maybe haven’t even tried yet but could help you to work at your best?’
How do you support students out in the community, for instance on a work placement?
For every student, we make sure they can access the community as safely as possible and that means different things for different people. So, can they get their wheelchair on the bus that serves their route to work? With ASD students, are they taking their seatbelt off or standing up and how can we find a solution to travel safely? Then, if there’s a particular issue at a workplace that would benefit from an OT assessment, we visit and see the student working there. ')}