What Does an Occupational Therapist Do? Allison Blakeley's Story

For most of us, vacation days are used for relaxing, traveling and sight-seeing. But for some, those vacation days are put to serving those who are less fortunate and in need of basic healthcare.

In December 2015, Allison Blakeley, occupational therapist, Children’s S.P.O.T., Firelands Regional Medical Center, boarded a plane beginning her two week mission trip to the Mercy Home Orphanage in Southeast India. The Mercy Home Orphanage is run by the Sacred Heart of Jesus Convent and houses between 80 and 120 children.

what does an occupational therapist doBlakeley served as an adjunct professor for Gannon University traveling with Dr. Lynne Oberle, faculty leader for Gannon University, and nine Gannon University occupational therapy students. The mission trip completed the students’ Level 1 pediatric fieldwork rotation which allows the students to apply the knowledge they gained in the classroom to clinical practice. Over 1,100 pounds of toys were brought with the mission team for the orphanage children. Upon arrival, the group was greeted with hugs, kind smiles, and words of thanks by the children and sisters of the convent.

“There was a big welcome ceremony when we first arrived,” said Blakeley. “The children danced and gave us scarves. They were such warm people.”

During the mission, the group provided occupational therapy services to more than 50 children and adults ranging from 4-60 years of age. The patients’ physical impairments were assessed to allow the students to develop and provide appropriate therapeutic interventions, including range of motion, body mechanics, oral motor skills, transfer skills, and more.

“A lot of the patients did not have any medical records,” Blakeley said. “We had to evaluate the children and implement therapy techniques based on their symptoms.”

But What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

What does an occupational therapist do that can be used during mission trips like Blakeley's? She explained that occupational therapists generally provide treatment to patients who have already been diagnosed with a specific medical condition by a physician.

Diagnoses may include:

  • Autism
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Developmental delays
  • Down syndrome
  • Genetic disease
  • Intellectual disability

The group provided care to children with a variety of special needs, many of which are similar to those seen at the Children’s S.P.O.T.

what does an occupational therapist do

When asked the question "what does an occupational therapist do" outside of a healthcare setting, Blakeley has strong insight. Though the Gannon University group was in India for only a few days, Blakeley notes that during their time there, the mission team helped train the sisters to be able to continue to provide care for the orphanage children after their return home.

Blakeley graduated from Gannon University in 2014. During college, she traveled to Quito, Ecuador for a similar week-long mission trip, this time attending as a Gannon University occupational therapy student.

Blakeley describes her mission trip experiences as “deeply rewarding.” She expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to gain international exposure to foster clinical competence and cultural awareness.

Blakeley plans to attend another short-term mission trip in the near future. Learn more about what an occupational therapist does and the services provided by the Firelands Children’s S.P.O.T. today.