An OT student reflects upon a unique fieldwork experience.
I remember my disappointment and hesitation when I received notification that I was going to complete my level I fieldwork at a community site that did not employ occupational therapists. “What am I going to do there? Who am I going to learn from?” were some of the questions that raced through my mind.
My hesitation and disappointment disappeared on the first day. As I walked into the site, I knew the place was very special. The site was created in 1972 by parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities in an effort to provide their children with a safe, educational environment. As soon as I stepped into the facility, I immediately felt welcomed by both the clients and staff.
The clients follow a structured program of attending different classes, with the aim of developing both individual and group goals to become productive members of the community. The classes include: life skills, music, community-based education, art, health and fitness, and technology. During my first week, I was given the opportunity to rotate through all of the classrooms and choose where I wanted to spend the following week.
Although each classroom had its own special personality, I decided to go into the technology group. In the technology classroom, the clients have the opportunity to develop time management skills, listening skills, social skills, and computer skills as well as follow directions and incorporate feedback.
Real World Challenges
As part of my fieldwork I needed to develop and implement a project. I wanted to do something that the clients would use on a daily basis and that would be transferrable to the community. I decided to host mock grocery shopping, which would teach money management skills. Since I wanted the clients to get as much of the real-life experience as possible, I started gathering empty household and food items such as cans, boxes, and containers. In an effort to replicate the physical environment, I received a donation of two shopping baskets from a chain supermarket.
The activity started with an introduction, where I explained to the group that we were going to be working on the money management skills needed for grocery shopping. The group then discussed money skills, including how each member spends their money.
We proceeded to a warm-up activity where I displayed a computer program called CandyShop that works on how to recognize coins and determine if a person has enough money to buy certain candies. For example, three coins were shown on the screen (a nickel, a dime, and a quarter), and group member was asked to come up and identify which coin was the nickel. As the computer program progressed, the questions became more complex, such as displaying a nickel, a dime and a penny, and asking which one is more than five cents.
For the main activity, each group member was given three pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. They were then instructed to go, two at a time, to the shopping area and pick the items they wanted and could “afford.” Once they chose their items, they put them in their shopping basket. The goal was to use the whole amount given, but not to go over it. They then proceeded to the cashier, where a group member checked out the items (photo 2).
During the wrap-up, the group members discussed the activity and answered the following questions: How did you feel while doing the activity? What could you have done better/differently? Can you apply this activity to the community?
The feedback received from the group was positive and included comments such as: “I like that there were real cans and boxes,” “I want to play this again,” “Next time I want to have more money.”
This activity not only provided the opportunity to develop money management skills but it also provided for the development of social skills such as decision making; time management; empowerment; self-esteem; and frustration tolerance. The clients who were at the cash register had the opportunity to interact with the teachers who portrayed customers. The clients’ faces lit up as they added up the items and provided the teachers with the correct change.
Additionally, this activity is versatile and can be graded up and graded down. To grade it up, dollar bills could be used. Once the members are proficient in calculating the change, larger bills can then be used. To grade it down, a list of items along with the exact amount of money that is needed could be provided.
I was very satisfied with the outcome of the activity. Furthermore, this activity helped to prepare the clients for a field trip to a supermarket scheduled the following week. The activity allowed them to role play, thus providing the clients with the opportunity to practice and acknowledge their mistakes in a safe and controlled environment.
Even though my fieldwork was only two weeks long, I will always remember it. I was able to develop awareness, establish rapport, and design activities for individuals who have intellectual deficits. This type of non-traditional fieldwork provided me with the opportunity to learn and to collaborate with other professionals outside the occupational therapy profession.
I highly encourage occupational therapy students to challenge their clinical reasoning skills by completing a level I fieldwork rotation in a site where there is not an occupational therapist present.