Someone who “helps people across their lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, injury rehabilitation and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.”
Source: American Occupational Therapy Association
Over the course of the 4 1/2-minute video, Shahmir says math is his favorite class. He says he wants a job bagging groceries at Food City. But when asked if he has a girlfriend, he says, “No, eww.”
At the end of the video, he’s asked what he likes to do when he stays up late. He thinks for a second, then says, “Party.”
Howls of warm, happy laughter explode from the 40-or-so people in the room.
Shahmir, who is 27 and has intellectual disabilities, spends his days at Trousdale School—motto: “Serving Exceptional People”—in Cleveland, Tennessee. In August, a group of UTC graduate students in the occupational therapy program traveled to Trousdale and filmed videos with its students.
The results are alternately funny, insightful, inspiring and touching. There was both laughter and tear-filled eyes when the UTC students sat down with their Trousdale friends and watched each video in a Mapp Building classroom.
“I really hope that you have learned a lot about what somebody that’s an adult with an intellectual disability may actually look like,” Stephanie Royer, lead teacher at Trousdale, told the class when the lights came up.
“Our guys exceed any limitations people set on them to get this far. So raise your expectations. Enjoy them as individuals. We group people together, and we forget they’re actual individuals.”
Emily Brittingham and Chapel Mason, who are earning doctorates in occupational therapy, worked with Shahmir on his video. Brittingham has worked with people with intellectual disabilities before at Chattanooga’s Orange Grove Center and said, “They’re just people.”
“They have the same goals. They want to get married and have families and be independent, just like I do,” she said.
The class, “Models of Practice: Occupation,” is taught every fall semester of the graduate students’ first year, said Elicia Cruz, assistant professor of occupational therapy.
Brady, 30, said his favorite movie is High School Musical 3: Senior Year. When “Breaking Free,” a song from the movie starts to play in his video, he leapt up from his chair in the classroom and mimics the same dance moves he’s performing onscreen.
When his video is over, 44-year-old Adam said, “I’m extremely full of surprises.” Graham, 35, noted that he swam in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in Ireland in 2003. Joseph, 33, explained that he and his girlfriend, Sara, have been on 41 dates. “She’s like my everything; she’s my whole world.”
As full-time occupational therapists, the students will help their clients learn skills most of us take for granted, she said, tasks like tying shoes or shopping or managing money or getting dressed and bathing.
Cooking, for instance, is a common goal, Brittingham said, and that’s where occupational therapists can step in and help. “We could go to their homes and make modifications within the home to meet whatever needs they had,” she said.
Ultimately, occupational therapists want to help those with intellectual disabilities build the confidence they need to get out in the community and “not be stuck at home,” Cruz said.
On the videos, several Trousdale students speak proudly of having such jobs as folding laundry, vacuuming and running the recycling efforts at the facility. When occupational therapy students hear the pride in the Trousdale voices, it cements the importance of what therapy can accomplish, Cruz said.
“By talking with the Trousdale students, they see even the little mundane things in day-to-day living are really super-rich and meaningful,” she said. “I think that’s the stuff where the tears come in. When you realize how important a little job is.”