Written by Theresa Mikolay and Meg Hartmann
As we approached our second year in the occupational therapy program amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the service-learning experience with the Aphasia Initiative felt daunting. Most of us had never worked with people who have aphasia before, let alone try to deliver services via telehealth. We knew little about what to expect, other than this being a really unique opportunity albeit a very scary one.
Right away, it was evident as to how enriching these next six weeks would be. The members of the OSU Aphasia Initiative were incredible–they were willing to let us learn and work on our therapeutic skills while they consistently showed up each week, ready for whatever twist and turn we threw at them.
Occupational therapy plays an important role in the community health setting and when working with the members of the Aphasia Initiative. The community can either facilitate or inhibit occupational engagement, and it is important to acknowledge the variety of mechanisms of service delivery in terms of social programs, assisted living, day care, and more. By going out into the community, such as working with individuals involved in the Aphasia Initiative, we can play an integral role in helping them accomplish their goals based around the community, rather than solely through their disease state.
This experience also taught us how to communicate effectively with those who have communication disabilities. Telehealth presented us with the opportunity to use different methods of communication such as pictures, videos, charts, and tables–modifications we may not have utilized had we been in a clinic. Having never worked with a client who uses a speech generating device before, it was useful to learn more about the adaptive equipment that many people in this population use. We learned lessons in patience, how to be comfortable with silence, as well as how to encourage the use of adaptive devices for more successful communication, all of which are important as future occupational therapists.
This experience has built up our professional development through providing a safe space to learn how to work on an interdisciplinary team as well as practice evaluating, providing treatments, and discharging a client. Working with Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) students was one of the most enriching parts of this experience. Understanding what their role is in the interdisciplinary care team allowed for more thoughtful collaboration and insight into how they help clients in their own practice.
One example of this was with Nicole, an MA-SLP student. She helped us implement our treatment plans through providing tips as to how to best communicate with our client, such as using a PowerPoint and pictures when demonstrating each exercise. If our client was unable to understand what a direction was, Nicole was quick to jump in and explain what we were trying to say in a way that was easier for the client to understand. Having the presence and knowledge of an SLP allowed us to break down the communication barrier–each client became fully aware of what to do and how to do it. Understandably, this leads to improved patient outcomes because their home exercise program (HEP) was understood and could now be followed.
This collaboration demonstrated how each member of the care team has a unique and powerful impact in an individual’s plan of care. SLP’s knowledge in communication and language in the Aphasia community is important because everyone needs to be able to communicate in order to benefit from therapy. When SLPs help individuals communicate, occupational therapists are then able to come in and utilize their knowledge to help these individuals gain independence and control back in their everyday lives through meaningful occupations. This experience was not only informative, but it was enriching and gratifying in so many ways. We are so appreciative for this opportunity to interact and learn from the Aphasia Initiative and the SLPs.