STEP Signature Project- SCAMP

  1. Over the summer I worked at a camp with individuals who had special needs. Each individual was a member of the community and through the camp, we worked on skills and fun activities that helped them to open up and work on their personal skills. I learned a great amount from each individual and it helped open my eyes to the importance of the work that I was doing.
  2. When I began my STEP project, I had a broad understanding of the struggles and difficulties that came with being a parent, sibling, or babysitter of an individual with special needs. I also only understood some of the problems that could occur for an individual with special needs. During my time working over the summer, my views were dramatically shifted. In my classroom, we had 7 kids ages 9-13. We had our kids from 9:30 am – 2:30 pm. During this time, we were responsible for providing them with the proper care and attention for them to flourish. This ranged from feeding them, changing them, and playing with them. I never fully understood the toll that it could take on a person to have this full responsibility every day. I think that the families of these individuals are saints and deserve unlimited amounts of praise. I also start to understand the simple daily challenges that they may go through. Going out to eat, playing at the park, and swimming can all be extremely difficult. My heart was changed by my experience and it made me realize how blind I was to the hardships around me. After my experience, I started to realize how many people around me are impacted by the challenges of taking care of a loved one with special needs. I am now more understanding of what can be going on in the background when people seem like they’re having a bad day or if their actions come off as rude.
  3. One of my experiences is in regard to the older adults that were apart of our camp. These individuals were between the ages of 20-30. One special program that our director offers is nights out at restaurants. The purpose of these outings is to teach our students how to properly address others when out to eat, how to order for themselves, and how to pay the bill. To someone from the outside, these may all seem like a simple task, but these can be quite difficult for a person with special needs. After attending just a few nights out, you could see the transformation and confidence build within these individuals. This changed my perspective of things that I take for granted.

Another experience that changed my point of view was when we took our kids to the 4H county fair. The day that we attended the fair it was 95 degrees out and there was no cloud coverage. As the day went on everyone was becoming miserable, hot, and thirsty. During this time our kids began to act out. At first many of the counselors were becoming frustrated after having kids who were running off, hitting, crying, and yelling. But this was all put into perspective by one of my fellow counselors. She said, “I know this can seem like a lot right now, but our kids struggle to express how they are truly feeling. If we are patient, we will be able to calm them down and find out what they need.” This opened my eyes because I started to realize that there was a pattern that our kids were following. Typically, when someone is hot or tired, they just express that, but for individuals with special needs that can be extremely hard to get across so instead, they throw a tantrum. This influenced how I approach situations and made me realize that often we need to read between the lines and understand actions before acting.

My final experience that influenced me greatly was during the final week of camp. One of our girls was starting to act out and not listen. She would get easily flustered and throw her glasses across the room. Over the course of the two months of camp she had always been very quiet and very respectful. So, when this started to happen, we all were confused and didn’t know what to do. We tried many different approaches, but something seemed to be going on that we couldn’t figure out. Finally, we talked to her brother and he revealed that because it was the last week of camp, she knew that she wasn’t going to see us every day and she wouldn’t get to see all of her friends, so she was upset. This made me stop and think because I was so quick to jump to conclusions about what was happening. It made me realize how much assuming can hurt the people around you. It changed my perspective and the way that I am going to act towards others in the future.

  1. My personal goal is to go to law school. In law school, I really want to study criminal law but spend time doing work with people who have disabilities. This summer really opened my eyes to how much these families and individuals have on their plates. So, when it comes to the law, these groups of people often get dismissed or left behind. I learned how important it can be to have someone who can advocate for you because they understand you. This STEP project transformed the way that I will approach others in the future. It also made me realize how important it is for me to be a supporter and activist in their community. I will not take opportunities that I am given for granted and I want to make the most out of my ability to give back to others.

Igniting Unique Minds at Bridgeway Academy

My STEP Project allowed me to live in Columbus over the summer to volunteer and shadow weekly with Bridgeway Academy, a school for children with autism. I was able to connect with four different speech pathologists, and help them laminate, cut, and prepare materials for the upcoming school year. In addition, I was able to observe and participate in their therapy sessions and help use therapy activities to target specific goals for the children.

Going into the summer, I was convinced I wanted to work in a medical placement as a future speech-language pathologist (SLP). I loved the fast-paced, constantly changing atmosphere, where you saw new patients every day. This summer, I wanted to try to challenge my assumptions and see if I could envision myself working in a different setting. Bridgeway Academy is a school for children with autism and other developmental disabilities. As a volunteer and observer in the secondary school, I was given the opportunity to interact with fourth through twelfth grade students in a variety of ways, creating deeper relationships and having continual interactions with them throughout the summer to help them achieve their communication goals. After this summer, I could definitely see myself working in a school setting with children, especially those with disabilities. Before this experience, I was convinced that I would only thrive in a hospital environment, but after this summer, I realized that I also do well collaborating with educational professionals to create tailored goals for each patient and help them achieve these goals through play-based therapy.

  I split my time evenly at Bridgeway Academy between volunteering and observing. While volunteering, I mainly helped the speech-language pathologists (SLPs) compile new therapy materials, sort them based on therapy goal, then laminate and cut them. When I arrived in the morning, this is usually what I would start out doing, and it was nice to be able to connect with the SLPs and talk about what kids were on their caseload and how each resource would help them. It was so neat to see therapy materials that I helped put together be used in real sessions. For example, one thing students with autism really struggle with is following directions and sorting things into groups. This skill is really important for them as they eventually go out to work in a vocational setting, where they will be asked to listen to an authoritative figure and likely have to sequence or separate various things. One material I helped work on was a table that was split into two sections with two different groups, for example, fruits and vegetables. First, I would laminate the entire page, then I would cut out little squares that each had pictures on them of either fruits or vegetables. Lastly, I put Velcro dots on the table itself and the small squares, so the kids could look at the pictures then decide which category it belonged to. It was so awesome to be able to see something I worked on actually be used in real therapy sessions, teaching kids how to follow directions such as “First stick on the red vegetables, then the orange fruits, and then the rest of the vegetables.” This is a valuable skill, especially because many kids will go on to work in a grocery store or some kind of market.

This activity stood out in particular to me because it made me feel like I was making a real difference. It was easy to see how from the day I started laminating these numerous cards, to the day they were actually used in therapy, to when kids could use these skills as baggers at the grocery, I was able to impact the children’s lives in a real and tangible way. Previously, I thought that working in a hospital would give me the most immediate gratification; I would see a stroke patient, prescribe them a diet that would help them not aspirate, and be on my way. In the school, however, there were more steps involved but it was neat to see how building the resource from start to finish and then helping kids understand how to use it in the real world was a worthwhile process. I really liked feeling like I was making a difference, even if sometimes it just involved cutting and sorting papers.

When I was not volunteering and helping create therapy materials, I shadowed four different speech-language pathologists and would rotate between them. They really valued me as a student and would talk amongst each other about who they had on their caseload that day and what activities they would be doing to ensure I got to see something new each time and participate in all that the field of speech-language pathology has to offer. I got to see a lot of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) use, which is something I was fairly unfamiliar with previously. Roughly 70% of students at Bridgeway used some kind of device or communication board to communicate, and it was the primary job of the SLP to know how to use these devices and train students on how to use them. I got used to using iPads and certain software to connect with students which was very new to me, but an important skill to have as our technology continues to grow. In addition, I sat in on individual therapy sessions, where we often played board games to target certain goals. I loved seeing how creative the school SLP has to be and what goals can be targeted simply by playing Candyland. Lastly, and probably my most favorite, was when we did co-treatments with either occupational therapy or music therapy. Most students at Bridgeway receive multiple therapies, so when we are able to combine and target multiple goals at once, this makes it more engaging for students and more efficient for therapists. I specifically loved when we would co-treat with music therapy; the students loved it and it was a neat way to target communication goals, such as maintaining eye contact, taking turns, and making appropriate choices.

Throughout the summer, I was able to build connections with the therapists and ask them countless questions about their experiences in graduate school, finding jobs, and what it is like to work in a school setting. They were brutally honest with me about the good and bad days that working in a school can bring, but ultimately, they all say they love their experience and getting to watch students grow. Many of them have worked for the school for multiple years and have developed relationships with the kids’ families and are able to see them grow up and go beyond Bridgeway when they graduate. Being able to see this continual growth is not something I would get in a medical setting, where I usually would interact with a patient three or four times at most, then never see them again. It really made me think about what I value most as a therapist and challenge my previous notions.

As I begin applying to graduate schools, they often ask about what your professional goals are and what you hope to bring to their program. Before this summer, I thought I wanted to strictly work in hospitals, and was looking exclusively at programs that focused on medical speech-language pathology. Following my STEP project, I feel like I have become much more open-minded and have begun exploring programs that offer a more well-rounded education for graduate school. By better understanding what it is like to work in a school setting, specifically with children who have special needs, I am able to see another side of speech-language pathology and use this to help form what my professional goals are and how I will contribute to whatever school I end up attending. In all aspects of my life, this experience has helped me become more open-minded and not judge a book by its cover. From now on, I will be less likely to rule out an experience based on prior assumptions, and more easily persuaded to give it a go, because you never know until you try.

Creating Magic at The Painted Turtle

For my STEP Signiture Project, I worked as a cabin counselor for three months at a free-of-charge overnight summer camp for kids with life-threatening medical conditions in Lake Hughes, CA called The Painted Turtle. My role was to foster an environment of possibility and belonging for children who have a diagnosis. I collaborated with the medical team to provide routine daily care, and facilitated activities that were challenging yet medically and developmentally appropriate for a diverse group of children.

I can confidently say that working at The Painted Turtle has made me a more empathetic and thoughtful person and a much better nurse. My assumptions on what a medically fragile child can accomplish were completely transformed. I learned through advocating and supporting children with a diagnosis all summer, that children are exceptionally resilient, brave, and intelligent. This whole experience reminded me that even if someone has a life-threatening medical diagnosis, doesn’t mean they have to be deprived of opportunities that summer camp can provide like belonging, adventure, community, and lasting friendship. This summer, I learned how to adapt: adapt a 40 high ropes course and zip line to accommodate children in wheelchairs, adapt to collaborate with a new team each week, and adapt my perceptions of what exceptionally bright children can offer the world.

This summer, I lived in a world where the lofty values of belonging, inclusivity, unconditional love and support were upheld in actuality. In turn, I had the opportunity to support deep friendships among children who, because of their diagnosis, often feel utterly alone in “the real world.” The first time I felt this sense of true belonging through my campers was the very first week of camp. Session One of camp was for children who have dwarfism. Many of these kids have spent their whole lives being stared and being thought of as different. At The Painted Turtle, every kid looks like them, and because these kids share this fundamental common ground, they now have place to shine and a place to call their home. New campers come shy and reserved on arrival day. By stage night they are belting their favorite song over a mic in front of 100 of their new friends and counselors. This is part of the Magic of the Painted Turtle: the place creates a space where all are welcome and kids are the center.

I had the unique opportunity to not only work with kids with a diagnosis, but also alongside counselors who have a medical diagnosis as well. Many of my closest friends from camp were previous campers themselves. The Painted Turtle is special not just because it creates an inclusive environment for campers, but also because it gives adults who have a medical diagnosis a place to empower youth and use their skills to bring a little magic to the world. One example is a good friend of mine who has a type of skeletal dysplasia that limits his mobility to a specially designed power wheelchair. You can catch this friend of mine capturing magic moments all around camp as our camp photographer. My idea of inclusivity has been profoundly and positively altered thanks to The Painted Turtle.

Adaptability and creativity are key features of a cabin counselor at The Painted Turtle. We make the previously impossible, possible for our kids at camp. Kids who are completely wheelchair bound can fly up a 40ft high ropes course and zip-line down. Kids who have never swum in a pool because of accessibility or infection risk, can splash and float with their friends. Kids who have never self-infused their own IV medication, can become one step closer to being independent in their medical care. Kids who have never spent a night away from their parents because of their intense medical situation can grow in independence and self-reliance surrounded by their peers at camp. In order for all this magic to happen, my fellow teammates and I had to get creative by collaborating with parents, doctors, nurses, and child life specialists. We altered routine, got messy, took initiative, and worked with these special kids to create a place where anything is possible.

My passion for pediatric nursing has been reinvigorated and deeply grounded thanks to The Painted Turtle. I will take the lessons of inclusivity, optimism, and empathetic listening with me as I finish my last year of nursing school at OSU. This summer at camp has made me a better nurse and a better person. I have gained skills in collaborating with an entire medical team to achieve a brilliant goal. I feel right at home advocating and working with kids who live with life-threatening medical conditions. I know that I can bring this boundless love and magic to the children and families I will serve in my future career.

Buck-I-SERV Trip to Ghana

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Ghana in July 2019 with Buck-I-SERV. My group and I performed chores at a children’s home that The Akumanyi Foundation had helped establish. The chores and activities we did included mopping floors, cooking meals, bathing, washing laundry, and playing with the children.

 

Before I embarked on this journey, I had no idea of what my stay was going to look like. I thought I had only one expectation—that we would have flush toilets. My assumption was quickly proved wrong, and throughout my trip, situations I encountered turned over more assumptions I did not realize I had. When two little girls grabbed onto me within one minute of seeing me for the first time, I was shocked at their quick trust. I had thought we would need a few hours to gain the children’s confidence. As I cleaned myself each night with a bucket of water and a pail, I surprised myself with how little water I used. When I visited a nice house in one of the nearby villages, I realized that I had created an inaccurate depiction of what all houses in villages looked like.

 

My small realizations added up to form a vibrant picture of Ghana. I saw that the friendliness of the children manifested in others I met. I loved sitting in the window seat of the van on our excursions; every village we passed, people would smile and wave to me and I would do the same. Our coordinator, Prince, told us that Ghanaians had a saying: “You should treat everyone kindly because you never know if someone you’ve helped will be your benefactor one day.” Not only did I experience the welcoming atmosphere of Ghanaians, I was humbled by their patience and hard work in their daily activities. From pounding palm nuts for soup to carrying large buckets of river water on their heads, the Ghanaians I interacted with put dedication and persistence into their work. Still, they knew how to have a good time. Many villages we passed while driving blared upbeat music, and the children at the home loved to dance. I saw that Ghana was truly a beautiful country.

 

When we first arrived to Accra, vendors came up to our car window and said “Akwaaba,” or “Welcome to Ghana.” Though our group received a lot of attention and elicited shouts of “Foreigners!” from Ghanaians, I did not feel like an outsider. People waved to and greeted us with enthusiasm and excitement. Their ability to embrace those with completely different backgrounds than that of themselves inspired me to treat everyone around me with a positive attitude. While I looked out the window during our van rides, I smiled and waved frequently. People always smiled and waved back. On this trip, I learned that smiles go a long way, and allow people who otherwise may lead very different lives connect. I hope to share this friendly form of nonverbal communication with more people on campus this year.

 

Before our trip, many of us had heard of the stereotypes often said about Africa. I had seen advertisements about donating money to feed starving children and save the poor people or comments about how everyone in Africa has HIV. Though during our pre-trip meetings, we watched videos and read articles about the importance of taking an unbiased perspective and being open to learning the full story, experiencing Ghana was the most powerful way to see that these stereotypes could not be more misleading. The children at the orphanage were fed three meals a day for example. As I described above, we passed bustling markets and people happily blasting upbeat music. During one of our group discussions, we talked with Prince and Patrick, our Ghanaian volunteer coordinators. I really enjoyed this conversation because they not only refuted the common stereotypes Westerners have of Africa, Prince shared some of the stereotypes Ghanaians had about America. He said that some believe all whites carried guns and shot people randomly. I found that this comment put into perspective inaccurate generalizations people had about Africa. Though we do have shootings quite frequently, many families in America do not own guns and many more do not condone this behavior. I have learned to be more aware of the dangers of having a one-sided story and to save my judgments for after I have gained more knowledge of a matter.

 

This trip also made me realize my role as a volunteer. I came to Ghana thinking that I was to help lessen the burden on the caretakers at the orphanage. After living at the home for a few days, I realized we created more burden at times. Teaching us how to cook for the kids, carry water from the river, and to clean and wash laundry probably costed the caretakers more time and energy than if they were to complete the task themselves. When I was on mopping duty, the woman who usually mopped stood in the room watching me and would have to correct me or mop the areas I missed. As we passed the buckets filled with river water down our assembly line, kids would pass us with buckets on their heads, walking the whole way to the reservoirs. I quickly saw that our roles as volunteers were more to experience their way of life, to build understanding and respect between people of different backgrounds, and to carry our memories and new knowledge of Ghana back home to educate our families and friends. Our roles were to give happiness, love, and attention to the children and to let them know we care about them and traveled thousands of miles to see them. I doubted that our two-week visit made a great difference in their lives, but I know it changed mine. I learned sometimes we must experience and understand first before we can truly change lives, and this stage is just as important.

 

Throughout our stay, we had group discussions about the “Now what?” part of our journey. For me, I believe Ghana changed the way I view service. I used to think it was necessary to change lives and that I wanted to fix people’s problems. I have realized that to truly serve, we need to stand on the same level as the people we are serving. This means understanding their situation fully, living through their shoes, and refraining from taking one-sided stories as facts. My trip gave me a tiny taste of life in a small Ghanaian village, though I am sure we still lived on the more comfortable side. I think that as an aspiring physician, I will take what I learned and apply it to the way I treat patients. I will always keep the patients’ perspectives close to heart and understand that I am serving them, not fixing them. With this attitude, I can give my patients higher quality of care, the emotional comfort they need, and respect for their individual beliefs or way of life. This trip taught me to be open-minded, patient, understanding, and ultimately to serve. I will carry these valuable lessons into my career and beyond.

Service Reflection

My STEP project with Bridgeway Academy, an early education center for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, included weekly continued service with the AfterCare program and a shadowing opportunity with the Occupational Therapists within the therapy center at the school. This experience provided me with an opportunity to see the impact of therapy on the lives of the students in terms of their regular social interactions, difficulties with their personal goals, and transitioning. This experience also allowed me to see the impact of the application of various therapeutic techniques in order to improve the social problems, behavioral problems, and deficits with fine-motor skills. Volunteering and shadowing within the same setting showed me me how each goal for potential improvement for each child that attends therapy within the school is addressed from both a therapeutic and personal aspect.

This experience impacted my perspective on the client-therapist relationship and showed me how important this relationship is for patient progress. In order for a patient to reach their full potential, it is important for a therapist to develop a relationship to fully understand the patient and help them to develop therapy goals that align with their own future goals, passions, interests. Each patient is different regardless of how similar their diagnosis is to others, and it is important to understand their differences in order to provide the best treatment. Although I fully embraced this experience and am thankful for all of the lessons that it provided, I decided to shadow in other settings with Occupational Therapists simultaneously. This diversity in shadowing settings showed me that I would not necessarily want to work in pediatrics based on my school setting experience and pediatric outpatient setting experience. This is a large change in my understanding of myself and my future with Occupational Therapy. I originally chose Occupational Therapy with the desire to work in pediatrics, so this was an important realization for me as a future medical professional.

There are many aspects of this project that led to these revelations and perceptual changes. Although my volunteering with Bridgeway Academy had been ongoing with Bridgeway Academy for a year, I still believed that there was a drive and a passion within me to work in pediatrics. I have been a babysitter and nanny throughout college, so I knew that I was good with working with that age population. Despite my involvement as a volunteer, I did not fully understand what my involvement in the children’s lives would look like as a future Occupational Therapist.

Shadowing was a completely different experience for me within the Therapy Center at Bridgeway. On my first day I was so shocked that the therapists spent so much time just playing with the kids and not working on any goals or activities. It took me awhile to realize that my first day was each of the children’s first day with the therapist as well. Each therapist had to learn about each individual child’s passions, quirks, and personality in order to develop future goals with the child and their parent. In the past, I knew that the client-therapist relationship was important for treatment. However, I had never actually witnessed the beginning of this relationship, so this was a big takeaway for me.

Each child at Bridgeway is unique, special, and beautiful in their own way, and I am so thankful for all of the lessons that each child taught me. I am thankful for the little moments that are always proven to mean a lot. I am thankful for this entire experience, and I am thankful that this experience taught me more about my passions and skill set as a future Occupational Therapist than I originally thought that it would. My background at Ohio State has been primarily in Psychology, and my experiences at Dodd Rehabilitation Hospital left me more excited for the future than I have ever been. My shadowing at Bridgeway was impactful, but the involvement of neuroscience in stroke patients, spinal cord patients, etc. left me so excited for my future. I decided to include other shadowing experiences this summer at the last minute, but I am so thankful that I did. This little exploration showed me more of what Occupational Therapy has to offer, and it has me looking forward to my future. I loved the various adaptive equipment, therapeutic strategies, patients’ stories, and in-patient setting more than I thought that I would. This project has left me with more of a passion to learn more about Occupational Therapy and a desire to explore all that this field has to offer.

This perspective is very important in my life as an aspiring Occupational Therapist. It is important for me to be open to many different settings and types of therapy. However, it is also important to understand my strengths and find a way to utilize them in order to make me a better future Occupational Therapist. Although I loved my shadowing at Dodd, there may be another setting that would also allow me to utilize my strengths. It is important to have this desire for exploration outside of pediatrics. I was originally stuck in the pediatrics mindset. This project also impacted me as I am applying for graduate schools. These experiences have been transformational, and they have given me material to speak about in interviews. These shadowing and volunteering experiences also helped me to write my personal statement and finish my applications. Despite all of these things, I am most thankful for this experience showing me why I fell in love with Occupational Therapy in the first place. Despite the stress of applications and the unknown future, I am excited, now more than ever, to pursue my passion and dream of becoming an OT.