Meet our Newest Professor – Supriya Sen!

By Assistant Professor Supriya Sen

Supriya Sen

Warm felicitations to my greater VCU community and to my OT family. I am very excited to join the VCU OT department and to call Richmond, VA my home. Here is a brief explanation of my personal journey and OT experiences prior to VCU.

I was born in India, where I went to school until I went to high school in Cardiff, Wales, U.K. I got my ‘A’ levels there and then emigrated to Australia. After a brief stint as a student enrolled in the psychology Department at University of Queensland (U of Q), Brisbane, Australia where I completed a double major in psychology, I enrolled in the occupational therapy program. I graduated in 1987 with a Bachelor in Occupational Therapy from U of Q and worked at some teaching hospitals in Brisbane. I soon realized that I was interested in the philosophy of ‘health prevention’ or what is now known as ‘wellness’ in the OT world. I subsequently graduated with a Master’s degree in Human Factors and Ergonomics from Latrobe University, Melbourne, Australia in 1991. I spent the next 5 years in Australia working in different capacities and roles as an occupational therapist in industry. I worked as a case manager for Commonwealth Rehabilitation Services (CRS) where I managed work injury cases, provided OT intervention and advocated for my client’s vocational careers. My most favorite work role at the time was when I worked as a senior advisor in Occupational Health and Safety Department of Industrial and Labor Relations. I was responsible for overseeing industry complying with occupational health and safety regulations in Queensland, Australia. I clearly recognized the role of OT in this work setting and was glad to be able to contribute my expertise in human factors and ergonomics (HFES).

The gypsy in me, decided that I wanted some more adventure (as if that was not enough) and that is what brought me to U.S. I left Australia in 1995 and worked in Georgia for 18 months at hospital where they were setting up an industrial rehabilitation program. I then moved to Dallas, TX and worked at a private facility that offered work rehabilitation services to injured workers. I was there for a year after which I joined University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 1998. I was hired by Dr. Gary Keilhofner to work and subsequently manage the work rehab program at UIC, hospital system. While at UIC I became very involved in teaching in the OT school. I held an adjunct position as clinical assistant professor for almost 17 years. I taught classes to OT students in Clinical skills, Ergonomics, problem based learning and hosted labs for students at the hospital. I also taught Industrial Rehabilitation to the physical therapy students at UIC for 10 years.

In 2014, I moved to Philadelphia and worked at The University of the Sciences where I taught cultural competency, Interprofessional education, clinical skills and occupational therapy practice in the community. My post-professional occupational therapy doctoral project was embedded in the constructs of cultural competency and work rehabilitation for people with and without disabilities.

Did I say that I was going to be brief? I clearly was not brief in the description of my OT life/career.

At a personal level, I am a world traveler. I have lived on 4 continents and have travelled extensively in every continent except Antarctica. I consider some of my ‘occupational roles’ as daughter (even though both my parents are deceased), traveler, aunty, friend, animal lover and advocate for animal welfare (I have many stories about some of my adventures via ASPCA and PETA), pet parent to my adorable cat named Kuro (which means black in Japanese) and most importantly I consider myself as a ‘citizen of the world’. Every country I travel to brings me joy and unique experiences that I cherish. My travels have grounded me and have given me insight to how other people live. I have come to the realization that humans in any culture/country have many things in common – compassion, joy, valuing family, politeness, decency, food as a medium of connecting and sharing one’s culture, human decency; the list goes on. There is more commonality than disparity amongst us in the world.

I am so looking forward to working in and being part of the VCU community and the greater Richmond community.

Evidence-Based Practice & Leadership Workshop

By Assistant Professor Patty Laverdure

EBP & Leadership Meeting

On June 6th, forty fieldwork coordinators and educators from the greater Richmond area gathered on the Monroe Park campus of VCU to review and assess their evidence based practices (EBP) and examine the leadership skills required to advance EBP in their practice settings. During the workshop entitled, Building and Leading Inter-Professional Evidence Based Practice Teams, participants examined tools to build accountability in practice, to strengthen their skills to access, analyze and apply scientific evidence and translate knowledge in a variety of practice settings. As pediatric and adult practice communities, participants dug into intervention research to establish effective strategies to critically evaluate and develop best clinical practice; to identify collaborative approaches that build access to relevant evidence, clarify informational needs, facilitate knowledge development, and close knowledge to practice gaps; and to discuss tools of accountability and measurement to advocate for practice change in their practice settings.

During the workshop, participants debunked many of the myths of EBP, finding ways to benefit from the evidence to build an accountable, reliable and cost effective service delivery system in the context of a busy clinical schedule. Seven of the participants will be leading their inter-disciplinary teams in the development of a community of practice over the next year. Team leaders will establish practice communities to strengthen evidence based practices and build tools to examine, share and apply scientific knowledge within their complex systems. Through their guided collaborative learning, the practice leaders will be instrumental in ushering in change in their practice community; identifying knowledge gaps to inform academic and clinical research agendas; and articulating and disseminating the value and outcomes of OT services in their practice settings.

Research Day 2017

By Department Chair Al Copolillo

This year marks the end of our Master’s Level OT program. Our final cohort, the class of 2017, begins Fieldwork II in the next couple of weeks and will return to Theatre Row for the last time as an enrolled class in January 2018. It’s a bittersweet feeling to watch the master’s program transition to the entry level doctorate. To see so many students benefit from the MSOT program over many years is a deeply fulfilling experience for all who contributed to it, but the need for change to the OTD is here and brings a sense of excitement for what’s to come.

At this moment in time, I can’t think of a better way to appreciate the MSOT program than to recognize and honor this final class, the Class of 2017. Like many of the students who came before them, this group displayed a sense of maturity and confidence, a willingness to work hard, and a passionate desire to embrace the core of this profession, helping people to improve their occupations.

Every person in this class has demonstrated leadership in a unique way. The elected class officers, recognizing the value of building positive relationships as a central part of learning, quickly united their class through social events and community service. The class as a whole built strong relationships with the faculty and contributed to a sense of solidarity in the teaching/learning process. From my vantage point, I saw a group of students taking the idea of professionalism seriously, working to support each other, and recognizing the importance of practicing the foundational characteristics of occupational therapy, not just with designated clients or patients, but with each other.

Class of 2017

This year’s Research Forum, one of several culminations of the learning that occurs throughout the program, exemplifies the strength of this class. As with many culminating academic experiences, capstone presentation formats where students are required to stand up in front of their professors and classmates can feel intimidating. However, the Class of 2017 presented a year’s worth of faculty-guided research in an impressively professional way, describing their involvement in research design, participant recruitment and data collection, interpreting complex statistical analyses, and fielding difficult questions. Most impressively, they were well-prepared, appeared relaxed and confident, and at times even seemed to be having fun!

Class of 2017 Research Projects

• Assessment of the Ecological Validity of the TIP and the MIPM, Jamielynn Bodman, Karen DeMarco, Kathryn Hamlin-Pacheco, Margaret Kuhlman, Julie Kurtz, & Catherine McCarthy
Faculty Advisor: Carole Ivey

• Community Reintegration and Quality of Life after Brain Injury at The Mill House: The Clubhouse Model, Evan Amabile, Meredith Arnold, Andrea Caramore, Tatiana Schrader, Emily Taylor, & Lindsay Thomas
Faculty Advisor: Kelli Gary

• Development of Quality Indicators for School-Based Occupational Therapy Practitioners, Melissa McCann, Hannah McLoone, Laura Moore, & Leah Reed
Faculty Advisor: Patty Laverdure

• Effects of Deep Pressure on Arousal and Performance in Persons with Autism, Kaitlyn Baumann, Marika Emanuel, Anthony Guarriello, Paige Hebard, & Caitlin McDaniel
Faculty Advisor: Stacey Reynolds

• The Effect of an Occupational Therapy Computer Workstation Intervention on Ergonomic Knowledge, Self-efficacy, and Habit Formation, Chris Bott, Lars Hofland, Chad Murla, Sarah Plummer, & Megan Smith
Faculty Advisor: Al Copolillo

• Examining Functional Performance Based Cognitive Assessments Used by Occupational Therapists for Clients with ABI and SMI, Tara Burns, Zachary Grant, Dustin Mays, & Tay Om
Faculty Advisor: Dianne Simons

• Group-Based Healthy Living Instruction for Diabetes Mellitus Type II, Varsha Dante, James Dunaway, Ben Kiesler, Allison Lockwood, Hannah Newlon, & Meg Wright
Faculty Advisor: Tony Gentry

• The Impact of Home Modifications on the Performance of In-Home Activities in Community-Dwelling Older Adults, Cailin Clinton, Sara Cooper, Kelly Durkin, Holly Kaulius, & Becky Tupaj
Faculty Advisor: Jodi Teitelman

A huge and heartfelt thank you to Dr. Kelli Gary for serving as course facilitator and for planning and organizing the Research Forum with assistance from Adriene Hall-Johnson and Lawrencine Smith. Our gratitude and appreciation for all community partners and study participants too.

Congratulations and best wishes to all of the members of the Class of 2017 and to all MSOT students who chose VCU as their path to becoming outstanding occupational therapists.

A Student’s First AOTA Conference

By Grad II Sarah Plummer

This year a record number of VCU OT students attended the American Occupational Therapy Association’s 2017 Annual Conference in Philadelphia to celebrate the profession’s centennial birthday. Using money from donations, the Student Occupational Therapy Association was able to run a raffle which paid for 3 students’ conference fees, and numerous other students and faculty attended as well.

The conference included the poster sessions, short courses, scientific research panels, a huge Expo, the Eleanor Clarke Slagle lecture, and numerous other speeches, addresses, and meetings. In honor of the Centennial, there was also a special Centennial bash with a band and dancing, a Knowledge Bowl, and an opening ceremony describing OT’s rich history. VCU students and faculty proudly represented the department’s tradition of excellence with a variety of posters, booths at the Tech Day “Appy Hour,” research presentations, a team competing in the Knowledge Bowl, faculty inductions for Stacey and Tony into the Roster of Fellows, and a lively dance circle at the Centennial Bash.

To capture the wide variety of experiences, I collected the following quotes from VCU students who attended the conference:

“The conference was such an amazing experience! It was very exhilarating and empowering to be in attendance alongside over 13,000 other OT professionals, students, associates, and supporters. The opening ceremony presented a wonderful video re-telling the history of occupational therapy followed by therapists from both the United States and abroad celebrating the value of occupational therapy through anecdotes from their experiences in practice. It was also amazing to actually attend an Eleanor Clarke Slagle lecture – the role of technology is a relevant concept both within occupational therapy and healthcare and society as a whole. It was inspiring to listen Dr. Smith’s journey in the field and vision for the future. Lastly, I attended a variety of research panels and short sessions. My favorite session focused on neuroscience underpinnings and incorporating these concepts to guide and enhance intervention in all settings. Since I have both a background and fascination in neuroscience, it was an interesting session to attend and refreshing to know that therapists are considering the biology of the brain throughout our field.”

Next year’s conference is in Salt Lake City, Utah. Hope to see you all there!

My Path to FREE: A Priceless Experience!

By Grad II Varsha Dante

Grad IIs at FREE

Grad IIs at FREE

Born and raised in India, I was exposed to poverty, homelessness, and disability at a very young age. Catching a glimpse of someone in need in Mumbai was as common as driving by a McDonald’s in Central Virginia. In an effort to avoid feeling any sort of pity for these individuals and giving them every rupee I had in my pocket, my culture taught me to pretend I didn’t see them. But all of that changed when I visited an orphanage near my grandma’s house in Kemmannu, India.

A rough translation of the name of this orphanage from Telegu to English is ‘Motivation’. Spandana is a non-profit organization that houses boys and men with various disabilities who have been disregarded by their parents. In many cases, the parents intentionally gave their sons away when they found out about their disability. Sadly, this is a typical case in India as disability is regarded as bringing shame on a family. Luckily, orphanages like Spandana take such individuals in as if they were their own. Some of the members of Spandana have intellectual disabilities, but a significant amount of them also have physical disabilities. On my very first visit to Spandana, I was astonished at the level of creativity it took to create makeshift (albeit somewhat unsafe) mobility aids such as canes and walkers for some of the men. However, most of them used self-identified compensatory strategies to work around their physical conditions. I continue to marvel at the fact that these members are able to make the most of their situation in spite of having so little.

So, when I heard about a non-profit organization called F.R.E.E Foundation in Richmond, VA that provides donated medical equipment to individuals who are unable to afford them, I wanted to learn more. This is a resource that is unheard of in Kemmannu, India, so naturally, I felt inclined to get involved with this organization. By simply cleaning, organizing, tagging, and matching the equipment to their customers, I feel like I am on the path to becoming a caring occupational therapist. The amount of clinical insight and judgment it takes to provide a client with the most optimal piece of equipment for their use at home is commendable and I am incredibly grateful to be a part of this process. Additionally, by simply volunteering a few hours of our time, we can alleviate some of the burden of the F.R.E.E. staff, understanding the mechanics of disability and selecting the most appropriate piece of equipment to accommodate the disability, and recognizing that F.R.E.E. provides an avenue for members to continue being productive members of society.

The lives of the men living in Spandana would be so different if this resource was available to them. It’s only a matter of time before these resources make their way to India, but until then, I plan to do my part of advocating for our profession and the resources available to our clients with the hopes that they may one day spread to all parts of the world. While I plan to continue volunteering at F.R.E.E. after I graduate from this exceptional program, I (and my fellow volunteers) would like to pass the torch to the future graduates of VCU’s OT program.

Whether it’s volunteering from 5-7pm every Tuesdays or simply for an hour a month, I promise you, it’s worth it your time. Catch me in the hallway or email me at dantevj@vcu.edu and I can help you get involved!

The Occupation of Infant Care

By Associate Professor Stacey Reynolds

Stacey and Maddox

I’ve been a mom for almost 10 years. So when I became pregnant last year I thought I would have an easier time than most “new moms” because I wasn’t a new mom. However, Daniel was six years old when I adopted him- he was potty-trained, dressed and fed himself, could entertain himself, and was able to communicate his needs verbally. Imagine my surprise when my son Maddox was born this fall and required 24 hour assistance from me to do all of these things!

My new role as “mom of an infant” has been both rewarding and challenging; and at times very isolating. In the past 3 months I’ve gone through a variety of stages, such as: (1) Oh my gosh, what did we do?, (2) I can survive the next 60 seconds, and the next, and the next, (3) Oh, you smiled, I will do anything for you, and (4) our current stage of enthusiastically celebrating every new language and motor skill he masters. Clearly I love him more than I ever could have imagined.

Throughout all of these stages I’ve struggled to combat my desire and need to devote most of my physical and cognitive energies to Maddox, while simultaneously wanting and needing to keep up with teaching, mentoring, and research. Despite having flexibility to work-from-home these past few months, it has been hard to “flip the switch” from mom to professor whenever he goes down for a nap (if he goes down for a nap). Apparently, this is not uncommon. Recent research (summarized here: http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/22/health/pregnancy-brain-changes/) indicates that there is actually a synaptic rewiring of the brain that occurs after giving birth. The authors of this article compare this to the major pruning process that happens during adolescence. In moments of stress, I picture my “research neurons” dying off and being replaced by lyrics to Old MacDonald. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that these changes can last several years…

What, if anything, does this have to do with OT? As a pediatric OT it is important to understand that our clients are not only the children that we see but their parents as well. Not only do parents of infants with disabilities face the same stressors as all parents, they are often dealing with exacerbated challenges in feeding and sleeping as well possible medical concerns. It may take longer for their child to smile, babble, or make eye contact; which can impact early bonding and attachment. It may also take longer for their child to reach motor milestones and be able to play (entertain themselves) independently. Parents of children with disabilities may also be unable to return to work or regular community activities, leading to social isolation. It’s unsurprising then, that parents of children with developmental delays and disabilities are prone to higher rates of stress and mental health conditions such as depression.

When working with families of children with disabilities, particularly young children, it is important to understand how parents are feeling and to consider what is most important to the family when setting and prioritizing treatment goals. For some families feeding is going to be a priority, while others may be more focused on bonding with their child. I know for me a major milestone was when I could put Maddox down long enough to wash my face and brush my teeth every morning. Part of our role as OT’s may also be helping families understand the importance of their own mental health, and providing them with resources to connect with other families or community resources. Finally, as OT’s we can help families understand that while their child may not hit all of their developmental milestones on time (and it is important not to compare their child to other children), that is no reason not to celebrate every time a new skill is acquired. Most important, raising Daniel and Maddox has reminded me never to judge other parents.

Our Newest Professor!

By Assistant Professor Virginia Chu

Hi VCU OT family, I am excited to join the faculty of the department of Occupational Therapy at VCU. I recently moved to Richmond from Chicago, where I was an occupational therapist in Early Intervention and pediatric outpatient therapy practice. I am a biomedical engineer and researcher by training. I have a Ph.D. in Bioengineering from Stanford University, where I studied motor learning and perception of motor variability in children with dystonia. I finished a postdoctoral fellowship at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) in the Sensory Motor Performance Program studying reflexes and sensorimotor control in people after stroke and spinal cord injury.
Since coming to VCU, I have been busy setting up the Sensorimotor Performance and Rehabilitation Engineering lab. My primary research interest is understanding the role of multi-sensory integration in motor control. During my studies in occupational therapy and my clinical experience in pediatrics, I have seen the need for better understanding of sensory deficits in children who are seen by occupational therapists. There is limited scientific evidence supporting effective sensory interventions, particularly, limited understanding of why some interventions work. My research goal is to understand the effects of sensory deficits on motor learning and motor control, especially during the formative years of early development. As part of my research plan, I will design and test assessment techniques for measuring sensory deficits in children that will eventually be made available and appropriate for clinical use. I hope that by improving assessment techniques for sensorimotor deficits in children, we can better target therapy interventions.
Outside of work, I love cooking, making crafts and building things. I cannot say I am an expert in any particular crafting or cooking technique, but I love to explore new ideas. I also am passionate about social justice issues and enjoy spending time with community organizations and volunteering. In the past, I had volunteered and engaged with the homeless community, youth in crisis and immigrant families. I am still exploring the Richmond area and looking for ways to engage with the RVA community.

I look forward to forming collaborative research and scholarship partnerships with students, faculty, clinicians, and scientists in the VCU community. If you are interested in pediatric sensorimotor research or just want to chat, feel free to contact me at vchu@vcu.edu. I’d love to hear from you.

(Re)working Rest

By Grad I Paul Kehrer

During the holiday break I became intrigued by a subject that is appropriate to consider during a few weeks off: rest. I mean healthy rhythms of work and rest in particular. Overworking for a time is a requirement for completing any major project. If people did not agree and even commit to overworking, at least for a set period of time, there would be no health profession graduates, no professional musicians, and no entrepreneurs, just to name a few. Altogether, being overworked is unavoidable, but the retreat between semesters is a good time to plan a sustainable rhythm of work and rest. But what really is restful, and how is it done well?

A common side effect of over work is over-rest, often being one of a pool of activities with the word ‘binge’ added on the end. I’m thinking of past-times like Netflix, food, alcohol, sleep, video games, all of which are fine in and of themselves, but done in high concentration result in a vegetative state that leaves the participant more tired than when (s)he started.

People often ask one another, “Who is the best at something?”. Such as, who is the best singer, cook, etc., but no one ever asks, “Who is the best rester? Who gets the most rejuvenation from their rest?” Are there role models or examples for resting well? (I can think of plenty of examples of burn out, but chill out?). Until now, I never thought of rest as a skilled discipline that can be learned and intentionally applied with useful outcomes until I needed it in my life and then I was too busy to figure out how to get the most out of rest.

Productive rest does not come naturally to me, and the more responsibilities compound the harder it is to learn the skill of doing restorative, managed, rejuvenating rest. However, I admire the priority of restful self-care that I see in many of my classmates and it has been inspiring to me. I did my undergraduate degree in fine arts, and I loved it, but one thing I can say for sure is that OT students are much healthier than art school students, and having a clue how to rest well is part of the reason. Hopefully this is a skill I can acquire and apply and I encourage you to do so as well, before you really need it.

Transitions

By Jayne Shepherd, retired Professor Emeritus, VCU, Department of Occupational Therapy

jayne-retired-2016

How many times have you had to change gears to do something different? As many of you know, I am passionate about the topic of transition…and here I am in the midst of transition after 30 years + 4 months of teaching occupational therapy at Virginia Commonwealth University. Where has the time gone? It seems like yesterday when Jane Case-Smith and I joined VCU as newbie faculty members and mothers. The faculty welcomed me, many who were my professors when in OT school: Craig Nelson, Patti Maurer, and Tina Brollier. Sandy Cash and Tina mentored me in teaching, organization, and fieldwork and were great collaborators. Judy Hanshaw and her VCUHS staff gave me opportunities to work in pediatrics one day a week to enhance my knowledge and “stories” for class.
As I began teaching 3 classes my first semester I occasionally used the ONE LARGE computer that was in the department conference room. Although I had a degree in education, the learning curve was steep and continued to ebb and flow throughout my tenure.

So to keep these 30+ years short…What is VCU OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY to me?

V – A variety of valuable and versatile learning opportunities and experiences from faculty, staff, students, and colleagues that I will hold close to my heart;
C – Curious, compassionate, comical, client-centered, and collaborative
U – Unique individuals, classes, community partners, and fieldwork placements.

O – Open to new ideas, opportunities, and occupations,
C – Clever, capable, and caring,
C – Crafty, courageous, occasionally contrary, and now computer strong!
U – Unstoppable VCU graduates and faculty who are making a difference in their client’s and family’s lives, in research and the profession;
P – Person-centered, passionate, pediatric strong, and party people (with a little prodding).
A – Amazing, accountable, articulate, and activity and assistive technology driven.
T – Tenacious thinkers and top notch transformers of lives with
I – Interdisciplinary learning, innovative, imaginative, inquisitive, and an infectious quest for knowledge.
O – Outstanding observations, original ideas, often in overdrive yet orchestrating optimists with
N – Noteworthy suggestions, new ideas, and nimble fingers to splint, sew and woodwork.
A – Adaptive, aspiring, approachable, and appreciative of all and the Dollar Store!
L – Lecturing and launching students with laughable moments; loving OT and leaping into laudable colleagues and careers.

T – Thoughtful teamwork and tech savvy for terrific therapy while using
H – Humor and humility with honored fieldwork educators, faculty, students, and staff.
E – Energetic, engaging, enthusiastic, evidence-based practitioners who are
R – Realistic, respectful, responsive individuals providing rewarding returns.
A – Avid advocates for persons with disabilities, affirming meaning and joy.
P – Playful pals, powerful costumes, productive professors and progressive, professional students and colleagues…
Y – Yielding a wonderful career in academia….YAHOO! Yeesh, 30+ YEARS+!

I am honored to have taught over 1450 occupational therapy students who are now or will soon be my valued colleagues. Many are now adjunct faculty or faculty members at VCU or elsewhere or serve as essential fieldwork coordinators or directors of occupational therapy departments. It has been a privilege and I thank you all for your patience, forgiveness, and collaboration.

We are selling our house in Richmond and moving to Warsaw, Virginia on Cat Point Creek where we will build the second floor to our house. Then I plan to work part-time in OT while enjoying nature, kayaking, painting, and volunteering. So I hope to see many of you around the world of OT. Thank you to the faculty, students, and the VCU and OT community who have given me a great send off. I know this quote by Kristin Armstrong will be true….and I’m ready!

“Times of transition are strenuous…they are an opportunity to purge, rethink priorities, and be intentional about new habits…to make our new normal any way we want.”
Onto the next phase! Much admiration for YOU.

OT Collaboration with SwimRVA Autism Swims Program

By Assistant Professor Carole Ivey, PhD OTR/L

Accidental drowning accounted for 91% of US deaths in children with autism spectrum disorders from 2009-2011 (National Autism Association, 2016). Because of this, SwimRVA began planning in 2015 to expand their swim lessons to include lessons for children with autism, a decision that is compatible with their mission to “elevate swimming in the Richmond region making water safety and aquatic fitness more accessible to all.”

The SwimRVA group embarked on eight months of research and assembled a team of experts, from the Central Virginia Autism Society, Chesterfield County Public Schools, Chesterfield County Support Services, and Carole Ivey, from our OT Department. Additionally, they traveled to Kansas and Georgia to train and observe current best practices in swimming instruction with children with autism (some who happened to be OTs). From this, the SwimRVA Autism Swims program was developed. The goal of the program is to teach children with autism to swim. Unlike other swim programs for children with disabilities, this program is provided in the community by the community, run by SwimRVA swim instructors. In order to do this, the SwimRVA instructors would need assistance on how to work with children with autism and adapt their instruction to the needs of this population.

Swim instructors completed the online course for paraprofessionals through VCU’s Autism Center for Excellence (http://www.vcuautismcenter.org/training/paraprofessionals.cfm). This was followed by a lot of training, including an overview of autism by Tammy Burns from the Autism Society of Central Virginia, and sensory processing in children with autism, by Carole. Based on this instruction, we worked with the swim instructors to determine supports that might be needed for the lessons. We determined that visual schedules, video modeling of skills, and video social stories should be developed, as well as considerations for adapting the sensory environment. But how would these be developed?

As part of the Occupational Therapy Practice Activities III course in our VCU OT curriculum, students design and fabricate low technology devices for clients or facilities. The SwimRVA Autism Swims request was submitted by Carole to develop the adaptations for the swim program. Grad II’s at the time (now Grad III’s soon to graduate) Corinne McLees and Liat Damari signed up for this project. Their background as swim instructors, their pediatric interest, and Liat’s expertise in technology was a huge asset for this big project. They worked with SwimRVA to develop 3 adapted materials, a video social story “Entry Video,” video modeling skills videos, and visual schedules. Collaboration was key to this project. The goal of this program was not to have the children “hang out” in the water for 30 minutes, but to actually learn to swim by going through the same SwimRVA swim “stations” that any other child would. This required them to immerse themselves in the SwimRVA culture – how do families enter the building? Where do children wait for the lesson? What are the words instructors use in a lesson? What are the skills required in each station? These were all incorporated into the adapted materials.

Video Social Story “Entry Video” – The purpose of this video is to prepare swimmers on how to enter the building, check in, change, use the bathrooms, enter the pool area, and wait for the instructor. This video is posted on the SwimRVA YouTube channel to allow children to watch the video prior to their swim lessons. (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLWZ12AmzTh9HYYgkMt2Z2c_Jt28CwroOG)

Video Modeling Skills Videos – The purpose of these 19 videos are to provide a visual model of the swimming skills in the first three stations. Thirty-eight skill videos were developed – 2 for each skill with one having audio directions and the other having no audio. These videos are also posted on the SwimRVA YouTube channel and can be watched by children during lessons or before and/or after swim lessons.

Visual Schedules – The purpose of the schedules are to help swimmers follow the structure of the swim lesson. Ten sets of schedules were made, with each set containing cards for each of the 19 skills along with “break” activities and blank cards.

The week before the Autism Swims program began, Corinne, Liat, and Carole went to the facility to train swim instructors in the use of the adaptive materials. This allowed swim instructors to ask specific questions regarding interactions with children with autism, and to collaborate on how to best envision these materials working.

The SwimRVA Autism Swims Program officially started on April 5, 2016. Lessons are offered two days a week and to date have been provided to 42 children. There is currently a wait list of 19 children. At this time, all nine swim instructors have remained with the program. Swimmers range in age from 3-17 years. To date, 31% of the swimmers have advanced 1 or more stations, and the SwimRVA goal of water safety in the Richmond region is getting closer one lesson at a time.