From gait belts to gardening — learning how to become an occupational therapist

Apartment EnvironmentStory by Emily Fawaz

Spring is a busy time in the occupational therapy building for the first-year students. During their eight hours of lab each week they learn many new skills including how to use adaptive equipment, modify home environments and instruct clients in new safe ways of doing daily tasks. Students explore the use of activities that engage their clients and develop skills such as doing puzzles to improve visual perception, planting flowers to strengthen grip and making cookies to increase cognitive skills.

Experiential Learning

Students in ATRC Lab“We are very fortunate that we have the apartment environment in one of our classrooms,” said Lisa Fyffe, assistant professor. “It allows me to simulate many different client contexts and environmental barriers and the students are presented with a variety of cases that reflect practice scenarios that they will encounter.” The area that was added in a recent remodel in the occupational therapy building simulates a home environment with a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living space.

In addition, an opportunity was provided during one of the labs to explore the assistive technology center and the role it can play in occupational therapy practice and in the lives of clients. “Because low vision impacts so many people, especially as they age, it is my hope that students will really ‘feel’ the importance of this lab and feel better prepared to serve this population,” said Josie Thulien, a first-year student and teaching assistant in the Assistive Technology Resource Center.

A Deepened Understanding

The lab experiences create an environment for students to gain a deeper understanding of class material and how to apply what they are learning. “Students work through authentic, real world tasks which create ‘ah-ha’ moments as connections are made between knowledge and real world application,” said Natalie Perkins, an instructor in the department.

Students practicing transfers

Throughout the semester students have practical assessments where they are evaluated on their ability to articulate treatment recommendations similar to what will be expected on future fieldwork experiences. “They begin to understand how to use social supports as a resource and how to change the environment to better promote safety and independence,” said Fyffe.

Even after completing the program and starting their careers, many students remember their first-year lab days with fun and dynamic case study characters that provided an opportunity to consider unique environments, personalities, goals and interests.

The Department of Occupational Therapy is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.