I have never been able to travel light. I am a ‘just in case’ type of person and so tend to over estimate what I might need. The time I spend rummaging in my bag is a constant source of amusement to my family. They call it my hobby! Being an Occupational Therapist, based mainly in the community, presents a particular challenge for me. What can I possibly afford to leave behind? To which I usually answer…. not much.
Transporting all you need for an Occupational Therapy assessment or treatment session to your client’s home, school or place of work is never easy and getting it through the front door can be even harder. I used to have a trolley and would tend to arrive doing a good impression of a travelling salesman loaded with goods or a contestant from ‘Crackerjack”, just without the cabbage! (If you are too young to remember this gameshow – google ‘Crackerjack cabbage game’ and you will see what I mean.)
In an attempt to focus my thinking, I have downsized to a rather large colourful basket (bought from a lovely market on the Ile de Re). One of the children I see calls it my ‘Mary Poppins bag’ and I am sure fully expects me to pull a full sized standard lamp from it one day.
You get the idea, I tend to take a lot with me. And the fact that there are so many great tools available to use with children and young adults with sensory processing difficulties does not help me in my quest to travel lighter. Also, it is difficult to be certain how each child will react to different stimuli and so a trial and error approach is often the best way forward. It is sooooo annoying if the one thing you need is the one thing you chose to leave at home. Consequently…… I take more than I leave behind.
I enjoy working in the community but it is not without its challenges. On a first visit, you are never really sure who will welcome you or what space you will have to work in. Being adaptable is definitely a key part of this job. I have been known to construct obstacle courses in the school library – scooter boarding under desks, commando crawling under chairs, using bean bags as stepping stones, playing balloon tennis in the corridor, covering windows in paper to draw or paint on.
Seeing children and young people in their own environments can provide crucial information that may otherwise be less obvious. An insight into the child’s usual environment be it at home or school can prove extremely valuable when promoting sensory diets or exercise programmes. The therapist will often get to meet the child’s extended family, their pets, see their bedrooms, meet and liaise with their class teachers and support workers, observe them at playtime or lunch time with their friends or siblings. All of which helps to build a complete picture of their life and their challenges. The more information you have, the better and more relevant the intervention is going to be.
Obviously seeing a child in a sensory rich environment designed for Sensory Integration is the best place for assessment and treatment. However, due to funding issues and travel constraints, this is not always possible. Consequently, some sensory equipment needs to be small enough to travel and user-friendly enough to be used in school, at home and at work.
So what is in my bag?
The following seem to always make the cut.
I must admit to being a big fan of therapy putty. It is so small and can be used for so many things. Burying a Lego man (my personal favourite – Lego batman in a pink tutu!) in the putty and giving it to a child or young adult to play with and find, is a great ice breaker and can help to calm an anxious child. It provides information about the child’s proprioception and tactile systems and their praxis skills. Therapy putty can also be used as part of a sensory diet or exercise programme as it provides resistance and reduces the need to touch other things. It can even be used on the end of a pencil to turn it into a weighted pencil. I never go anywhere without my therapy putty.
I also tend to bring with me a weighted neck roll such as weighted kitty cuddles or puppy hugs wrap. Many young children and teenagers love the deep pressure feeling which they find calming and aids concentration. Being an OT, I love a bit of diy and in the past have made weighted neck rolls from colourful tights and socks, with the young people I work with, adding buttons and a felt tongue to turn them into a friendly snake.
I always have a resistance band or 7 in my bag too. They take up very little space and have earned their place by proving very popular with teenagers and young adults. Using a resistance band can help increase core stability, increase proprioceptive awareness and help regulate arousal levels. The band can also be used to tie around the front legs of a classroom chair so that the child can swing their legs against it to get extra sensory input.
Its always useful to have some fidget toys to hand such as Easy Catch Ball or Tangle as again they are small and can help concentration. Trialling them with the children can better inform my recommendations for a fidget box as part of a child’s sensory diet.
An angled writing board such as the Slant Board to trial with children in the classroom helps to improve their posture during table top activities and I never leave the house without a variety of pencil grips such as The Pencil Grip or the Stetrogrip to help promote a functional pencil grip and provide extra feedback.
Much to my own children’s delight ( I am sure they think I am a travelling soft play salesman!) there is usually a large exercise ball, small scooter board, balance board and a variety of wedge cushions in the back of my car to use with children who are needing to develop their core stability alongside proprioceptive input and motor planning. A weighted blanket usually makes the grade too.
I also find for tactile stimulation some kind of appropriate gel or foam such as the Happy Senso Multi Sensory Gel helps me bring a multi sensory environment to the home or classroom.
There are far too many things to list them all here and the list is growing every day.
So, no doubt, I will continue to pack my bag as full as I possibly can. Why change the habit of a lifetime? As more great products become available or I come across great suggestions on Facebook and Pinterest my bag just gets fuller. I may need to go back to my trolley days.