Supporting changes in participation through a pandemic
As a dedicated provider of allied health supports via telehealth, you could argue my occupational therapy practice at Therapy Connect has been less impacted by the COVID pandemic. Therapy Connect systems, processes, resources and experience has allowed me to continue to deliver online services to clients around Australia online as usual through the pandemic.
However, the pandemic has seen fundamental changes to what “participation” looks like for clients. Many of my clients have experienced significant changes in how they participate in their everyday lives due to restrictions, school closures and lockdowns. While the focus has continued to be centred around specific occupational therapy goals, it has been necessary, more than ever, to remain flexible to the rhythm and flow of sessions and adapt these goals to meet the fluctuating needs of a family. In practice this has meant focussing on supporting changing priorities as they arise with the new routines and contexts that families and children are experiencing. Along with usual occupational therapy goal priorities, I have supported a range of emotions and feelings of overwhelm.“Participation” does look very different for our clients as we live through the pandemic, but as Occupational Therapists we are well placed to adapt to the changing needs of our clients..
Themes I have noticed while supporting clients’ participation through the pandemic include;
- Acknowledging that some families are fatigued and overwhelmed, resulting in cancellations or much needed breaks from therapy appointments.
- Flexibility around goal setting has been required as contexts and activities have changed in many cases.
- Supporting families to see therapeutic opportunities in everyday activities and routines. Such practical, in the moment strategies are highly valuable and can reduce pressure to set aside time to engage in “therapy”.
- Acknowledging that structure and routine often provides a level of safety and comfort. In play, learning and social contexts, there has often been less structure and routine with the pandemic restrictions. Supporting families in simple ways to create more predictability through for example, visual supports, has been important.
- Supporting regulation by providing creative, fun ideas to meet a child’s gross motor and sensory needs (in even the smallest of spaces) can increase motivation and participation towards a common goal.
- Finding fun and engaging ways to support the development of social skills and emotional regulation by embedding a range of strategies into clients daily life routines.
A telehealth service delivery model has supported me to flexibly deliver occupational therapy services to clients and I have been able to adapt as required. At times, a parent coaching model within sessions has been beneficial to ensure that the caregiver feels empowered and supported; at other times we have focused on skill building directly. “Participation” does look very different for our clients as we live through the pandemic, but as Occupational Therapists we are well placed to adapt to the changing needs of our clients in 2021 and beyond.