Maddi is an occupational therapist working for the ACT Education Directorate. She is passionate about her role and loves the chance to make a difference in children’s lives through her work.
What is the role of an occupational therapist?
The term occupational therapist might be a little bit confusing for some people, but in my profession “occupational” means all of the activities people need to do, want to do or are expected to do in our day to day life.
For a child, this encapsulates activities such as self care, play and education. My role is supporting their participation in these activities.
Often, the children we work with have a disability, some kids don’t have a formal diagnosis, but may be experiencing some kind of difficulty engaging in the school program. This may be due to sensory preferences, delays in their motor skills or experience with trauma in the past.
In the Network Student Engagement Team, we aim to collaborate with schools at the universal level to support students; this means we liaise with the staff, teachers and executives and run professional learning to share our knowledge so they can support all their students.
The teachers know the students best so when we work with them, we are guided by their knowledge and understanding of the students’ unique interests, personality and learning style. We provide an occupational therapy lens to each situation to help build strategies to support the brilliant work they do in classrooms.
Can you tell us what a regular day looks like for you?
My work is so varied from day to day. If I’m working with a child who has a physical disability, I might set up the environment so they can access the school.
For a child that has an autism background, we are looking at support from a sensory aspect, like a sensory space. In both situations we are looking to solve the same problem, how to help kids get engaged with school, but the work we do to address each situation will look very different.
One day I might be doing observations in a classroom to determine what kind of support a student needs, another a might be running professional learning workshop for school staff or working with Capital Works on a bathroom renovation.
How did you get into this profession?
I didn’t know what occupational therapy was until I started university in a different degree and one of my friends was studying to become an occupational therapist.
Occupational therapy is so broad, you can work with adults, you can do rehab, but I always knew I wanted to work with kids so it only made sense that I ended up in education!
The demand is increasing as people begin to understand what we do and given how broad our area of expertise is, we help all different types of students. There’s definitely a need for occupational therapy in schools, and as more people begin to understand the profession we can get that service into more schools.
Independence looks different for every student, whether that’s a school bathroom that’s set up for a student that has a physical disability or a well designed a sensory space for student who has autism that might be struggling with concentration. When students have their needs met, they have greater agency in their learning.
What do you like most about your role?
I love my job so much, it’s different every single day. It’s really rewarding to be making a difference in these students’ lives and promoting their participation in the school environment. I feel very lucky to be an occupational therapist in the ACT Education Directorate.