New programme helps tackle Occupational Therapy waiting lists in Cork

Children looking for Occupational Therapy in Cork can be waiting up to five years through the public health system. A new online resource being piloted in Cork could help address that, writes COLETTE SHERIDAN
New programme helps tackle Occupational Therapy waiting lists in Cork

Jane O’Flynn, Programme Manager, Health Innovation Hub Ireland working with MY OT&Me resources.

A NEW occupational therapy (OT) pilot is helping children experiencing difficulties with school-related skills and daily activities.

The founders of My OT & Me, Cork-based Jess Kennedy and Sean Ó Tuama, saw a need for an online paediatric OT resource to help children who may have developmental delays as a result of the pandemic.

Working with North Lee Primary Care Occupational Therapy Department, the HSE and supported by the Health Innovation Hub Ireland, Jess is well equipped to support children.

Lockdown meant they missed school and their social outlets were also restricted. Also, there are long waiting lists for appointments with occupational therapists due, in part, to the redeployment of existing staff to Covid testing duties. There is a significant demand for private paediatric services among parents, caregivers, educators and students.

MY OT & Me paediatric Occupational Therapy resource in action. 
MY OT & Me paediatric Occupational Therapy resource in action. 

Jess, originally of Limerick, studied OT at UCC and graduated in 2013.

“I knew I always wanted to work with children. I’m really interested in healthcare in general. OT was less known when I went in to it than it is now. 

"I love the idea of making people as independent as possible. I did a bit of research and found out that OT was more defined in Australia.”

When Jess qualified as an occupational therapist, it was hard to get work in this area in Ireland. So she moved to Australia with Sean, who is her fiancé as well as her work partner.

“I worked in Melbourne first and then in Brisbane. We were in Australia for over three years. It was a brilliant experience. The work experience I got there was unbelievable. I did a lot of home-based intervention with children. I worked in an early intervention pre-school alongside psychologists in Melbourne. I did a lot of liaising with schools and parents.

“I worked with a brilliant manager in a private paediatric clinic and I got wonderful supervision while I was in Australia. I worked with a huge range of children with different disabilities. The age range was from infants up to 19 and 20 year olds.

“As an occupational therapist, I work to support independence through meaningful and purposeful activities that make up everyday life. Obviously, with children, their main occupation is play.

“As an occupational therapist, I adopt a playful approach to bring on skills development. It could be developing fine motor skills for handwriting. It could be dressing skills to make children independent or it could be school-related skills like being able to concentrate in class.

“It’s also about regulating emotions so that children can play with friends.

“OT is a very varied profession . You do a lot of learning on the job. I’ve learned so much from families over the years.”

MY OT & Me paediatric Occupational Therapy resource in action.
MY OT & Me paediatric Occupational Therapy resource in action.

When Jess returned to Cork from Australia, she worked in a private clinic in the city before starting her own practice in 2018.

Initially, she carried out a lot of home-based interventions, going to the homes of the children.

Sean (who is an electrician by trade and is a qualified chef) became involved in the business when it expanded to involve telehealth.

“Sean’s background is around product development and innovation. So we put our heads together knowing we have a good skill set between us. We wanted to see how we could make OT more available to more families. I had been doing my home-based intervention but there’s only so much of that I can do.

“I still do a lot of clinical work with families but children looking for OT in Cork can be waiting for up to five years through the public system.”

That’s where Octobox comes in. Developed by Jess and Sean, it is “a telehealth-based solution to support children with skill acquisition in a fun an interactive way. It came out of doing YouTube videos, which I still do,” adds Jess.

“Octobox is a motor skills programme. It arrives at your house so you’ve got a physical product. It has a programme that is themed. It has really playful activities for children such as building and construction.

“There are activities that we call ‘whizz kid projects’ that are custom designed by us. They include really nice craft-based activities. They can involve fine motor skills and problem solving, which are important for children’s development.”

Octobox was created just before the pandemic.

“It was good timing. The pandemic highlighted the need for more telehealth support and support for parents that can help with (the activities) at home. We had schools subscribing to Octobox as well.”

As Jess says, there is no point in suggesting a list of generic activities using equipment that the families don’t have.

“With Octobox, you get everything you need in a box. There are the craft bits, pencils, scissors and all the sheets you need to do the activities. When you get the pack, you can log in and there is a series of telehealth-based videos that I’ve created.

“The children are talked through how to complete the craft task with tips on how to hold a pencil or how to use the scissors. The child feels they’re engaging with me. It also helps to support the parents. It’s not the parents that are trying to get their children to do activities. It’s me. That approach works with kids.”

There is a learning module for parents as well to empower them to feel educated as to why certain skills are necessary for children to acquire.

“Octobox is really beneficial for children who have been identified as having motor, planning or sequencing difficulties such as dyspraxia.”

The 12-week programme includes instructive videos for parents and activities for children.

“Families signed up at different times. It will be finished by January which is when the pilot comes to an end. Once we get the feedback from the families, we’ll be able to see what their experience was of engaging with it.

“Octobox is a solution to waiting lists. It’s for parents who want to develop their children’s motor skills at home, using it as an educational tool. We’re really trying to find out what the family’s experience is of it.

“We want to see this as a solution for the HSE so that children on waiting lists can be offered support at home. This could mean that children won’t need to see an occupational therapist. But if they do need to see one for face-to-face intervention, the parents will have a better idea of what exactly their child is struggling with.”

Jess says the online experience of Octobox makes it accessible.

“I’ve done a lot of work on telehealth platforms throughout the pandemic, supporting families. I see the positive impact it can have when parents can be coached and supported at home.”

When it comes to OT, early intervention is important, Jess said.

“It’s never too early to get support. As the years go by and the child doesn’t get support, there can be a gap in the milestones they should be reaching. That can impact on a child’s self-esteem and confidence.”

OT manager at North Lee Primary Care Occupational department, Sarika Kaushik, said: “We are so delighted to be part of this project. Our aim is to empower families to help their children in achieving their goals. This additional resource is provided to them in a very structured manner to help them feel supported throughout their journey. The OTs working with these families are positive that at the end of the project, the children and their families will have the knowledge and the skills they require and will therefore result in positive therapeutic outcomes.”

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