This past semester, the halls of the lower level Peralta Pavilion at Samuel Merritt University (SMU) were transformed into a trick-or-treat haven for clients, students, and faculty. Students and faculty in the Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program decorated the lower level clinic labs with fall and Halloween decorations to create a spirited, costume-filled event on campus.
The Halloween celebration was organized by MOT assistant professor Robyn Wu, OTD, OTR/L, BCP, as a means to augment the child-centered, play-based approach to care in the Pediatric Occupational Therapy Clinic. "A lot of children become very excited about Halloween, and we're here to celebrate and share their excitement." said Wu. "The event also encourages OT students to use a playful approach in working with their young clients and to have fun together."
Wu explains that the student therapists have skillfully leveraged the Halloween celebration to promote the clients' progress in reaching their occupational therapy goals. "Several of the children are learning to dress themselves, and the student occupational therapists have seamlessly incorporated OT teachings in the daily activity of dressing by putting on costumes as part of the therapy plan for the day. Another child who needed to improve his postural control came dressed as a superhero; his student therapists engaged him in pretending to be Spiderman while maneuvering obstacle courses in the clinic."
"The entire clinical staff of students and faculty dressed up for the kids," said Lisa Wilson, whose daughter came in dressed as a princess. "It was really cool to see so many adults dressing up for Halloween just to make the kids smile."
The Pediatric Occupational Therapy Clinic at SMU is in its 11th year and provides a free 10-week occupational therapy service to children between the ages of 6 months and 16 years. This year 18 children from the around the local area received services from students in the MOT program, whose work is supervised by occupational therapy instructors.
Occupational therapists help children who have difficulty engaging in the typical activities of childhood due to illness, injury, or developmental challenges. Some of the children seen at the OT Pediatric Clinic have Down Syndrome, Autism, or suffer from complications associated with in-utero substance exposure to alcohol and methamphetamine.
This year for the first time, the Pediatric OT Clinic has accepted a couple of children who have a diagnosis of cerebral palsy. "Typically we held off because our OT students get more extensive course work in neuroscience later in the year. However, after careful screening of the clinic applicants this year, we felt that our students had sufficient knowledge and skills to meet these children's needs," explained Wu. "I'm very excited because we have two clients whose clinical profiles are different than what we typically see."
One client has cerebral palsy and cortical visual impairment. "It's as though she doesn't have vision," explains Wu. "For our OT students, it will be a valuable learning opportunity to work with a client who lacks one of her primary senses. The students will need to use their clinical reasoning skills and creativity to design therapeutic activities that will be developmentally appropriate and meaningful for this child."
Valerie Hellmold has been bringing her son to the clinic for the past year and says it was the clinic's reputation in the community that first alerted her to Samuel Merritt University. "I have a lot of respect and appreciation for your school and its services at the clinic," said Hellmold. "The fact that they are student therapists helps make it comfortable for my son to be here and on days like today, seeing everyone dressed up for Halloween, shows me that they are thinking of the children who come here [to the clinic]."
"The practice model of the Pediatric OT Clinic is a family centered approach," said Wu. "Research shows that when you work collaboratively with families, children make better progress."