Hi y’all! My name is Abigail Peterson and I am a freshman at Oklahoma State University. I got a fantastic opportunity this year to work in OSU’s Child Development Lab (CDL) on campus with one of the recreational therapy faculty members. Here’s a little more detail about what I do, and why I do it!
What do we do? Twice a week, myself and the other students go to the CDL and work individually with three children. For approximately 20 minutes, we provide therapeutic activities one-on-one with our children. At the beginning of the school year, we conducted assessments and, based on that, decided on goals and objectives for the therapy sessions. During the fall semester, I worked with a young boy who has Down syndrome and this semester I am working with a little girl who has Cerebral Palsy. The differences between the two children are astounding and having to completely switch gears has been a little difficult, but the decision to switch children was for the best.
What does a typical session look like? There really is no such thing as a typical session, but once we get to the CDL we empty out the therapy room of distractions and chat a little bit about the activities we have planned for the day, or what we specifically want to focus on improving during the session. Occasionally we will pilfer through the toys and activities in the therapy room, looking for new ways to use them. Once the time comes, we each go get our child from their classrooms and ask their teachers how their days’ have been so we have an idea of what to expect affectively from each child. The child I work with typically is bright affectively and has very few bad days. I chat with my child between the classroom and the therapy room to see for myself how she is doing. Once we get to the therapy room, we do activities for about 20 minutes and then I walk my child back to her classroom; once there, I let her teacher know how she did. After the session, myself and the other student therapists speak with the faculty member about how our sessions went and what we may want to work on for the next session. Outside of the therapy sessions, I typically browse Pinterest and the internet to find some fun ideas for the next session.
Why did I decide to do this? I was chosen to be a member of the Freshman Research Scholar program at OSU in which we find a faculty mentor and kind of piggyback off their research to present our own findings. After meeting with a few other Recreational Therapy faculty members, I knew I wanted to work with the children in the CDL. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working with kids in different settings and know that that is what I want to do in my career. I absolutely adore the attitude and perspective that kids have. They make everything so entertaining and most of them are incredibly sweet. I am so glad that I got the opportunity to work in the CDL, so early in my college career, and any possibly that I can continue to do so in the future. Working with the kids in the CDL has not only grown my passion for Recreational Therapy, but also has helped me to grow as an individual; I’ve had to grow my patience as well as my discipline throughout this experience.
What have I learned so far? Switching children at the beginning of this semester has definitely presented a bit of a learning curve for me. In the fall semester, I had to be more stern and disciplinary as one of my objectives was to work on following directions and attention span, as the child had cognitive as well as physical disabilities. Now, with the child with cerebral palsy, I have to work on my patience and be more verbally encouraging as her disabilities are mainly physical. The child with cerebral palsy is much more talkative than the child with Down syndrome was though she sometimes has trouble articulating. With both children, it is easy to tell when they get frustrated as they tend to shut down, typical of all children. Working with the children has introduced me to recreational therapy early in my career in a way that many classes never could; because of this, I know that I truly enjoy the field. I have also learned how to look at many activities and automatically think of ways to adapt them for the child I work with. This is not to say that I automatically know how to adapt them (I have a long ways to go), but I am able to email or ask my faculty mentor her opinions on how to adapt things as well.
Overall, this experience has been great. Working with the children and really seeing Recreational Therapy in action while still being a student is a priceless experience. I’m looking forward to continuing in recreational therapy and being able to help people every day in my career. I know that by the end of this semester, my passion will have only grown and my knowledge base going into the future is much wider than I would have thought possible at this point in time.