Eric Smart (white shirt, back row, on the right) is an occupational therapy (OT) student at the University of Toronto and a familiar face at our BLOOM speaker nights. Eric says he gets more from hearing directly from parents and people with disabilities at BLOOM nights than “from textbooks and class lectures. The most meaningful lessons have come directly from the experiences, the honesty, and the hearts of BLOOM speakers—parents, children, an actor and actress, a business entrepreneur, a former Olympian and stepparent, and a parent author.” Here he shares five things he’s learned from family stories. Thank you Eric! Louise
Therapy needs to be balanced against family needs
In school we’ve learned that within our resource-constrained health system, therapy programs are primarily judged on whether objectives were met. Less attention is given to the process of "how" they were met. Through BLOOM speakers I’ve learned that if we look at rehab in a vacuum we risk delivering unintentional messages that a child is inferior and always needs to be improving; that they could always be a little “better” if they just did more therapy, even if that little amount took every bit of energy the family had left. I must keep my eyes, ears and mind completely open to families in case they choose to deliver the message that “Therapy is not right for us at this time.”
Children’s rehab is not an exact science
The way a diagnosis is conveyed can hurt parents. In school I’m given textbooks and read about many conditions over the years. My knowledge is built gradually. Parents don’t have the luxury of learning about their child’s condition slowly. I’ve heard from speakers that when a diagnosis is made, emotions cascade in and create a world of uncertainty and confusion.
'The whole is greater than the sum of its parts'
I must be wary of viewing child clients solely as a set of distinct attributes of interest to health professionals. This doesn’t match the way parents view their kids. In school we’ve learned about family-centred care and how parents know their children best (obviously!). So naturally I feel the need to see children through their parents’ eyes if I hope to make a positive difference.
Parents need time to be parents
At BLOOM speaker nights I learned that while I chose to be an OT, a parent of a child with a disability continually has new roles thrust onto their parenting "job description." They may become part OT, part physical therapist, part nurse, part social worker, part child-life specialist, part crisis counsellor, part case-coordinator, part educator. While I work 40-hour weeks, parents are working non-stop around the clock. This realization is humbling and puts my role as an OT in perspective.
‘There’s always something more I can learn’
Finally, these BLOOM nights have made me excited and certain that I will learn new lessons from each child and parent I work with in the future. Whether someone shares their personal meaning of vulnerability with me or demonstrates strength in ways I never could have imagined, I know these experiences will make me a better OT—bit by bit.
The BLOOM talks have shown me that no matter how many years of school I attend, there’s always something more I can learn. I will never be an “expert.”
Now, as I get ready to start my second and final year of OT school, my goal is to become a respectful learner, fortunate enough to contribute the occasional word to the brilliant life stories being written and told by parents and children at Holland Bloorview.