What I Learned at AOTA Conference: 2019

Hey readers! I just got back from New Orleans a few days ago, and I am so excited to share my thoughts with all of you today. All I can say is: WOW…what a weekend! I feel really grateful and appreciative of the opportunity that I had to travel to NOLA for this conference. I spent the weekend surrounded by like-minded individuals who are passionate about supporting, promoting, and enhancing the field of occupational therapy. I cannot stress enough how amazing this experience was. I left feeling inspired and revitalized in my appreciation for the field of OT. If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend attending AOTA Conference 2020 in BOSTON! (No traveling for me, woot woot!) Next year, my goal is to attend some poster and student sessions, as I did not make it to any this year. I was just too interested in all of the other presentations that were going on!

Throughout the weekend, I attended numerous lectures and conversations about various topics that interested me. Many in the area of pediatrics, intellectual and developmental disability, and sensory needs because that is what most interests me, but also a few about the adult population to get me out of my comfort zone and learn something different. As a student, I felt like this was a huge learning opportunity for me. I did more listening than talking at the conference, and I did my best to just take in everything that I was learning and seeing. I also pushed myself to network a bit too! I spoke to two lecturers who really piqued my interest – one NICU OT who spoke about becoming a feeding specialist and the second an OT who led a conversation about treating mental health in the school setting in response to the trauma caused by school shootings in our country. Finally, I met up with lots of fellow OT bloggers on Friday night and explored NOLA on Saturday! (Stick around until the end of this post to see a few highlights from the weekend!)

For this post, I will include a section for each presentation that I attended in order of increasing age – pediatrics at the beginning followed by adolescents and then adults. This way, you can peruse the presentations and choose which you would like to learn more about. I will include a few key take aways from each presentation and the AOTA handout if it is accessible. Now, let’s talk about what I learned!

“Our Place at the Table: Feeding, Eating & Swallowing Factors in those with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities”

This lecture was presented by Cuyler Romeo, MOT, OTR/L, Elaina DaLomba, PhD, OTR/L, Anna Cronin, PhD, OTR/L, Dennis Cleary, MS, OTD, OTR/L, Brian Scaife, OTF, OTR/L, & guest speaker Jaclyn Pederson, MHI. This was by far my favorite presentation that I attended while at conference. I placed it at the beginning of this list because the speaker was an OT who works in a NICU, however she also had speakers with her who work with individuals across the lifespan. One of the really cool things that the speakers did at this presentation was split us all into groups based on practice area in order to discuss the barriers and potential solutions that OTs face in becoming feeding specialists. As a student, I took this opportunity to learn from what the experienced OTs in my group were sharing and to be part of the Community of Practice. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Pediatric Feeding Disorder: impaired oral intake associated with medical, nutritional, feeding skill, or psychosocial dysfunction
  • Factors that affect practice as a feeding specialist include: treatment setting, acuity of care, educational leverage (CEU’s, evidence-based practice, certifications), and state licensure
  • What is needed for OTs to get a “seat at the table”: history of practice, education, and advocacy
  • Feeding Matters is an advocacy organization that is focused on research and creating a virtual community for parents and healthcare professionals

“Early Childhood Mental Health: Promoting Healthy Relationships when Young Children are at Risk for Adverse Childhood Experiences”

This lecture was presented by Kris Pizur-Barnekow, PhD, OTR/L. AOTA members can access a handout here. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Mental health: the ability to cope and develop physically, mentally, and emotionally
  • Adverse childhood experiences may be traumatic, put the child at risk for developmental, behavioral, or chronic conditions, and affect well-being and longevity
  • Increased ACE score is associated with increased risk for adverse health outcomes
  • Look at behaviors as the way a child is trying to communicate, not as unmanageable
  • Impacts of trauma on occupational performance: education, play/leisure, work, social participation, ADLs
  • Attachment plays a role in resiliency and has a protective factor against effects of trauma
  • Co-occupation: highly interactive occupations categorized within a sociocultural domain and has shared physicality, emotionality, intentionality, and communication between child and caregiver – shapes attachment

Recommendations by the presenter:

  • Oprah Winfrey’s documentary Treating Childhood Trauma
  • “Reflex of Purpose” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2015
  • AOTA’s Childhood Trauma info sheet

“Conversations that Matter: Playfulness & Play in OT”

This conversation was led by Lisa Crabtree, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA. Here are a few key points that we talked about:

  • Ways to play: shaving cream, Simon Says, lycra, obstacle courses (mix ADLs in!), crash pads, gardening
  • Social participation: educate families on how to play and engage with their child, invite peers/friends to join in the play
  • Cultural aspects: play looks different in every culture; make play relevant to what the family needs, has, and wants
  • Occupational justice: we must be advocates for play (do NOT cut recess at school, DO build playgrounds & offer cheap alternatives for those with low resources); know your area to make recommendations for parks, extracurriculars, etc.; do not take away play as a punishment for behaviors – they will only increase!
  • Function: explain the skills involved in play when talking to caregivers in order to gain understanding and trust

“‘It’s Not a School-Based Clinic!’ Making Contextually-Based Services Work for your School-Based Practice”

This lecture was presented by Joanna Cosbey, PhD, OTR/L, Robin Leinwand, MOT, OTR/L, Heidi Sanders, MA, OTR/L, & Todd Knouse, MEd. AOTA members can access a pdf handout of this presentation here. This was another really interesting presentation to me. While I am not sure that I want to be a school-based OT one day, I really appreciated how the presenters discussed how to make OT in the school relevant and natural. They also discussed the benefits of practicing with entire classrooms. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Role of OT in school-based settings: support access to the education curriculum; help students succeed in school; support children in being independent in all environments at school (ie. classroom, lunch room, playground, hallway, etc.)
  • OT is a “related service” at school – aka. a supportive service required to assist children with a disabilities in benefitting from special education services
  • Natural contexts: the OT room in a school is not a “natural context”; try not to pull children out of their classroom whenever possible, instead you go to them wherever they need you
  • Benefits of intervening in a natural context: collaboration, participation, learning, capacity, satisfaction, teacher appreciation of OT’s value
  • Getting buy-in from teachers and administrators: integral in being able to practice in the natural school contexts – clarify role of OT, “trial” in one classroom first, gain teachers’ trust, show administrators how this will be more efficient both for the OT and the teacher, show how the classroom will flow better with OT assistance

“Conversations that Matter: A Climate of Crisis Post-Parkland: How to Optimize & Advocate for the use of Mental-Health Approaches in School-Based OT; A Florida Occupational Therapy Ad Hoc Initiative”

This conversation was led by Anjali Parti, OTD, OTR/L, Brent Cheyne, OTD, OTR/L & Kurt Hubbard, PhD, OTR/L. AOTA members can access a handout here. When I saw this conversation on the list, I knew that I had to attend. This is something that is really important to me, and you can learn more in my most recent journal club article. Here are a few key points that we talked about:

  • Barrier: OTs in school systems either don’t know that they can work with children who have mental health needs, or they know they can but they don’t (this is a very broad generalization…I’m stating what the presenters stated here. So, if you are treating mental health as an OT in the school system, comment below on how you’re doing it! I’d love to learn more.)
  • The time is now: there is a huge increase in diagnoses of depression and anxiety among school-aged children. OTs have the skills necessary to treat this.
  • We should: create school-wide programs/initiatives, collaborate with other professionals (ie. psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors – OT does the functional component), normalize therapy (reduce stigma), create workshops with parents in the community, create after-school programs for students
  • Advocacy: professional development day at school, apply for a grant, AOTPAC/legislation, advocate for the role of OTs in mental health

“Pediatric Oncology: A Holistic Approach”

This lecture was presented by Sheila Longpre, PhD, OTR/L. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Most common cancers seen in children: Leukemia, brain & spinal cord tumors, neuroblastomas
  • Most commonly diagnosed in children age 5 and under
  • Impact on occupational performance:ROM, fatigue, sensory, motor, executive function, processing, attention, memory, orientation, concentration, social withdrawal, body image, depression, anxiety, disconnection, helplessness
  • OT’s role: work on physical impairments, ADLs, play
  • Ask the child what is meaningful to them to give a sense of control back to them, motivate them, and promote well-being
  • OT interventions: create opportunities for play, educate family on how to play, adapt school environment, provide extra time and added breaks to complete school work

“Multidimensional Approaches for Addressing Time-Related Challenges of Transition-Age Individuals with Learning & Attention Disorders”

This lecture was presented by Consuelo Kreider, PhD, OTR/L, Shaon Medina, MOT, OTR/L, Mackenzi Slamka, BS, & Jianne Apostol, BS. AOTA members can access a pdf handout of this presentation here. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Learning disabilities: a group of developmental disorders that affect the brain’s ability to receive, process, store, and respond to information; lifelong condition
  • Skills to learn: communication & advocacy – symptom awareness and understanding, addressing threats to success, time management, wellness/health, gaining accommodations
  • Strategies to learn: reframing & changing your perspective (acceptance); self-evaluation (identify strengths and weaknesses, learning style, and ask for support when needed); habits & routines (planning, reminders, use strategies)

“Senses & Sensibilities: Experiencing, Recognizing, & Providing Support for Sensory Issues in Adulthood from Autistic and Practitioner Viewpoints”

This lecture was presented by Stephen Shore, EdD & Teal Benevides, PhD, OTR/L. One of the cool things that we did at this presentation was a short sensory overload activity in which participants were able to experience what it might be like to be overloaded by multiple sensory experiences while trying to listen to and retain information. Reactions of the participants included wanting to push back, feeling angry and uncomfortable, and wanting to escape. One thing to note was that we did this activity for about 5 minutes; there was an end in sight. For our peers and patients who experience sensory overload, this is not something that can actually be escaped from. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Social Model of Disability vs. Medical Model of Disability (create/promote, modify, prevent vs. restore/establish, remediate) – focus on the social model by fostering self-determination and identity and promoting participation and collaboration
  • Rights Movement of Disability: principles of respect, dignity, autonomy, freedom and collaboration
  • Principles of Authentic Alliance: use respectful language, presume competence, appropriate and clear communication is a right, and focus on compensation and recognition
  • Person-first vs. identity-first language (ie. person with autism vs. autistic person) – ask what the person prefers; both are correct
  • Sensory needs/preferences may affect sexual well-being and participation

“The Role of Aquatics in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Setting: A Comprehensive Review of Treatment Interventions to Improve Occupational Performance”

This lecture was presented by Jennifer Vance, MOTR/L. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Benefits of aquatics in OT: cognition, vision, muscle tone, psychosocial, gross/fine motor coordination, balance, sensation, range of motion, strength, occupational performance, ADLs, IADLs, gait, functional mobility, transfers
  • Depth leads to amount of pressure the water puts on the body as well as the amount of weightlessness the person experiences
  • Ideal temperature: 94 degrees (92-98 MAX)
  • Aquatic techniques: Ai Chi, Bad Ragaz, Aquastretch, BackHab, Unpredictable Command Technique, Aquatic PNF, Halliwick Concept, and more!
  • Populations who may benefit: older adults, individuals with autism, individuals with Parkinson’s Disease, and more!

“Case Series: Yoga & the Principles of Neuroplasticity to Promote Occupational Performance with Community Dwellers with Neurological Insults”

This lecture was presented by Karen Aranha, PhD, OT & Laura Matteson, BS. AOTA members can access some handouts here. Here are a few key take aways:

  • Breathing leads to a mind-body connection, awareness, and concentration
  • Yoga may improve body functions and performance skills – translate to function and occupation
  • 10 principles of neuroplasticity are synchronous with yoga
  • Yoga has the potential to benefit individuals with CNS lesions

Welcome Ceremony & Keynote

The keynote speaker this year was Dr. Grace Dammann. This was an amazing speech about her own experience being a patient after she sustained multiple injuries in a car accident. She sustained a high spinal fracture and now uses a wheelchair. Her story is incredibly inspiring and she shared her appreciation for OT and how her OTs supported her in becoming as independent as she can be. There was also a large procession of AOTA leaders and a celebration of OT at the start of the conference, which was so fun! If you go to AOTA conference next year, I can’t recommend enough going to this event!

Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture: “Asserting our Competence and Affirming the Value of Occupation with Confidence”

Ellen Cohn, OTR, ScD, FAOTA presented the Eleanor Clarke Slagle lecture this year, which is a high honor in the world of OT. This year’s speech was on competence and confidence and how OTs must assert both of these things to practice effectively and advocate for our profession. This was a great lecture and very special tradition, and I highly recommend going next year if you go to conference!

Inaugural Presidential Address

Wendy Hildenbrand, the newest AOTA president, began her role as president with a wonderful speech about relationships, resilience, and relevance. This was another great speech!

If you attended AOTA Conference, comment below what your favorite presentation was! What is one take-away that you learned at conference that you will implement in your practice as an OT or OT student?

Here are a few highlights from the weekend in NOLA!

Me at AOTA Conference!
OT Instagram/blogger meet-up!
Meeting my favorite OT podcaster, OT 4 Lyfe!
My classmates and I exploring Bourbon Street!
Exploring the French Quarter
NOLA
My lanyard and name tag

Thanks for reading!

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