“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”
– Alexander Den Heijer
That was the quote that was next to my headshot during the slideshow at my graduation ceremony for my master’s degree in occupational therapy (OT). I loved it the second I read it as it so clearly puts into words something that most OT students struggle with – how to define the art and science of occupational therapy. Just like gardening (a valuable occupation within itself!), occupational therapy requires the heart of art and the evidence of science to be successful. Even more, it expresses how we do occupational therapy. The point is never to fix the flower – it’s to provide it with water, soil, and sunshine to help it grow into its most beautiful self. Likewise, it is our jobs as occupational therapists to provide individuals with the tools, resources, and support to grow into their most functional selves.
I discovered fairly early on in my OT journey that one of the best ways to achieve this is through assistive technology (AT). Though, if I’m being honest, my love of AT has seen more ups and downs than a rollercoaster. I’ve always had an interest and took as many AT-focused courses in grad school as I could, but when I got placed in an assistive technology evaluation center for my 3-month Level II fieldwork, I was honestly disappointed. It was my last choice placement and there were so many experiences in so many other settings I wanted more. Little did I know, this was just laying the foundation for my career. That negativity followed me through as I began my fieldwork experience. The content fascinated me, no doubt. Witnessing people try a standing wheelchair and get eye-level with their mom, or independently complete a worksheet at school for the first time, or the look of relief on a caregiver’s face after installation of a lift system is truly magical. We are so privileged as occupational therapists to be able to impact people’s lives in this way! But…it was a hard setting as a student. It wasn’t traditional therapy, a lot of sessions were one-and-dones, documentation was difficult, and there was a lot of travel. It was a relief to be done those 12 weeks.
But, as I finished my last semester of grad school at the University of New Hampshire, I found myself absorbed in an assistive technology for sensory needs class (a Saturday course, no less!). It reminded me, once again, that the love of the content and service provision outweighed the logistical challenges. When I went back to my fieldwork site to gather information for an assignment, the OT that was my supervisor mentioned that they would soon be hiring and I should apply. I may have only said yes for convenience, or for fear of the broader job search, but regardless I did end up accepting the position. After a few rough first months, with struggles similar to those I experience on fieldwork, I found my footing and fell in love with the position. I was put in charge of revamping the computer access program and was fortunate to be given quite a bit of freedom (especially for a new grad!), traveling for home safety assessments and gaining confidence with seating and mobility evaluations. There is such a wide network of team members involved in these services, and I loved connecting with DME providers, school teams, case managers, and families! It really does take a village, and I loved being a villager.
After about 9 months at this location as my first occupational therapy job, we got the news that the facility was closing. It was a heartbreak not only for us as practitioners, but for the clients we served. Where would they get the same level of assistive technology services? This was a question I was asked many times in the following months as we slowed down business. Often, clients followed with: “Well, can we still see you?” And with that, the seed for Hamlin Consulting, LLC was planted.
It was over a year and half later, though, until I was able to fully dive into it, as life happens sometimes. And that brings us to now. I’m focusing full time on my assistive technology private practice, just passed my ATP exam, and excited to be exploring the AT world again!
So tell me: what makes you bloom?