UP occupational therapy students pay it forward at centre for kids with disabilities

Posted on October 17, 2019

In the spirit of Mental Health Awareness Month this October as well as University Social Responsibility Month (USR) at the University of Pretoria (UP), third-year occupational therapy students have been imparting their knowledge and skills at Little Able’s sanctuary for children with physical and mental disabilities.

The centre, which is situated on the western side of UP’s Faculty of Health Sciences, was opened in 2005 to help children with disabilities reach their fullest potential. “We started to provide a service to the sanctuary this year, and the outcomes are amazing,” says Professor Kitty Uys, Head of Department of Occupational Therapy at UP. 

The children at the sanctuary have various disabilities, including intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, visual impairments and epilepsy. Some require highly specialised care. However, Little Able’s faces financial constraints due to the high cost of caregiving; this also means occupational therapists can’t be appointed. This is where the input of UP students is showing results. By helping the children as well teaching caregivers intervention techniques, therapy can be implemented on an ongoing basis.

“It is overwhelming to note that the physically challenged child improves over two to three weeks of occupational therapy intervention,” says Tintswalo Matebula, a third-year occupational therapy student. “For instance, a visually impaired child responded positively to sound aid.” Wilmari Pretorius, also in her third year of OT, adds that continuous synergy between occupational therapists and caregivers yielded positive results. “We propose certain interventions, and allow caregivers to implement them and give us feedback when we return to the centre,” she says. “In this regard we continuously explore other means to enhance the child’s participation.”

A child born with a severe disability is destined to a life of dependency. Compounding this is the fact that they often do not receive equal education opportunities nor the chance to participate in society. Also, the lack of appropriate assistive technologies prevent children with disabilities from learning and thriving.

Little Able’s enhances social connection, promotes access to education and empowers parents with the knowledge of their children’s right to education while supporting them in their efforts to access this right by collaborating with key stakeholders. “We teach them how to take back some control where possible,” says Prof Uys. “We believe such intervention may eliminate abuse of children with disabilities in our community.”

Children with disabilities should be given an opportunity to attend special schools to further their education, says Motshabi Moratioa, manager of the sanctuary. “We believe that building an inclusive education system will ultimately help build an inclusive society, which is why we appreciate the service provided by occupational therapy students from UP.”

- Author Jimmy Masombuka

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