This weeks #Otalk is on the topic of “What people say when they don’t know what to say” and will be hosted by Bill Wong (@BillWongOT).
Here is what Bill had to say…
As occupational therapy students and practitioners, we are health professionals who come across people with different issues throughout our careers. In my setting in nursing homes, for example, it can include Alzheimer’s/dementia, post hip and/or knee replacement surgeries, stroke, amputations, etc. In my first job in pediatrics, it can include autism, ADHD, ODD, DCD, CP, etc. Since rapport building is a crucial part in the therapist-patient relationship, things we do or don’t do can be the difference between a positive and negative relationship.
When I listened to the TEDx Talk: What to say when you don’t know what to say I thought about the very first days of receiving my diagnosis of autism in August 2010. It was very rough timing for me because I had to resume my second year of OT school 3 days later.
A month prior to finding out my diagnosis, I walked out of my hands on placement, which resulted in an automatic fail. I did it because I felt that it would be better to walk out on my own terms rather than having my supervisors telling me that I failed. When my parents learned that I failed that night, I told them, “You guys have taught me this since I was young. Until I find the root of the problems (with my placements), I can’t figure out what the best solutions will be. So, I am going to get to the bottom of this. I will go through neurological testing to find some answers. I got nothing to lose.” My parents then said, “We hate to see that you are going to be behind your peers progression wise. As much as both of us want you to get back on your feet as quickly as you can, finding out the reasons behind your struggles is the biggest priority before you figure out how to go from there. I know we are just as frustrated as you are. Hopefully this doesn’t drag out too long.”
Because of the timing of my diagnosis, school work made me almost impossible to grief. The time I have left from school work were spent on trying to understand the diagnosis and coming up with strategies on putting myself in position to succeed. Along the way, I heard a lot of “you can do it” or “you are smart, you can get through this”. I also heard some “you are the first person I know in OT who has autism”. At that time, I knew my classmates and the peers I met at OT conferences meant well. However, I felt I needed more than that.
Looking back, I know everyone’s experience was different (since what the experience and how we react to it can vary). But looking back, these are some things I actually wished have happened, even though obviously this story has a happy progression. (I won’t say end yet since I am still young in my career.)
- Spend some time to Facebook message me privately (at that time I didn’t really get involved on Twitter too seriously yet) or ask me to have a private moment with them. Yes, I know OT school is very hard to do such a thing. But, showing a willingness to ask me for a private conversation (at that time I rarely initiated conversations) can show that you care.
- Find someone in OT who also has autism. While I got that almost a year later from a caregiver, it’s so much better than to say “you are the first person in OT I know who has autism” or “I don’t know anybody in OT who has autism.” I wish people would have said (especially those who are qualified OT’s) “I might not know anybody in OT who has autism at the moment. But, I will try my hardest to see if I can find someone for you.”
- Small genuine acts of kindness. Simple things can include offering me a piece of gum or sharing snacks. Even if I might say no, I would have appreciated the gesture.
- Be aware of subtle differences- such as body language and social cues, especially if they are not typical of that person. During my first year of OT school, many of my classmates around me knew I was a happy-go-lucky person. Moreover, I brushed off bad results from exams the next day. However, I was depressed for 2-3 weeks and my affect was a lot flatter than normal. I pretended to still be a happy person when in fact I wasn’t when I first learned of my diagnosis.
110 Avg Tweets/Hour
9 Avg Tweets/Participant