Thursday, January 5, 2012

Professional Insight: Occupational Therapy on A Personal Level

Sister Sohada, an American sister living in Madina, KSA has given myself and the readers of I am Special With Needs! insight on being an Occupational Therapist here in the Kingdom. Below are the questions asked and answered. If you have any additional questions please contact Sis. Sohada using the information under the "Services and Locations" tab.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
My name is Sohada.... Im an Registered Occupational Therapist and have been in the field for over 15 years now. Alhamdulilah Ive had the opportunity to work with babies and people over a 100 who have had impairments, disabilities and handicaps of various kinds in the US. I studied both in Boston, Massachusetts where I earned my ASc in OT and furthered my studies in Miami, Florida, having had internships in both states as well as in Connecticutt.

What KSA city do you live in?

 Im an American Muslimah who's been here in Madinah Munawwarah for 5 years now with my husband and children alhamdulilah.

What types of special needs services are available in your city?

There is the Disabled Children's Association who primarily have students with physical disabilities. They do not accept non-Saudi children though, nor do they accept children who have hearing loss, Autism or significant cognitive disabilities like children with Downs Syndrome. There is also the Amal School which is for students who are deaf, non-Saudis are welcome but I don't think its that easy to be accepted. Then there is Rehabilitation Steps Institute where I was a program manager for a while. Students of all nationalities and disabilties are welcome there. There is also a school for children with Autism here in Madinah, but after my visit there, I was discouraged in calling it something complete for children within the ASD. Truth is, there are clinics and such, but it is extremely difficult to find a suitable center for kids and their families dealing with disabilties around here. So I try to help out with advice and whatever consulting I can to assist these families, by the permission of Allah.

Tell us a little about Occupational Therapy.

OT is a skilled health-care profession in which an OT evaluates one's performance in everyday jobs a person has and tries to help him/her gain or regain independence so they are more active and functional in their lives, and their quality of life is improved inshaAllah. 
An OT analyzes  use of work, self-care, and play activities to increase development and prevent disability. Sometimes quick fixes like adaptation of tasks or environments is all it takes to help someone acheive maximum independence. Sometimes its strength training or learning how to get dressed in a certain way after having an arm amputated. Sometimes its involving a sensory diet within the life a child with ADHD to help his/her parents guide their child in daily activities like getting ready for school or completing homework.
Basically, OT is a profession based on extensive coursework in cognitive and physical growth and development of human life. Implementation of that knowledge and assessing those who are experiencing challenges, helping them reach their full potential inshaAllah is its purpose.

What made you want to be an Occupational Therapist?

Allah has guided me towards this profession from the time I was little girl. Im not really sure why, but I always had a tender spot for kids and people with disabilties. I remember as a child watching programs of children who were dying of hunger in Africa, and I remember always feeling bad for the kids who got picked on in school. Having spent some quality time with my beloved grandmothers, may Allah have mercy on them, I think did it too. When I was in high school way back, I was looking for a university that I would be able to study Physical Therapy as a major and Psychology as a minor. But I came across a school that said OT was a major that could fulfill what I was looking for. The rest is history as they say :).
I am forever grateful to Allah for bringing me into Occupational Therapy because it is a constant reminder, when Im working with people who have all sorts of difficulties and challenges in their lives, Allah has put me in a position where I can help them for His Sake. So in a sense its a therapy for me as well, occupational therapy is a nuturer of my faith as a Muslimah. Its how Allah has guided me and part of how He continues to do so Alhamdulilah.

What has been some of your experiences in KSA with children or adults who have special needs? 

There really needs to be an dramatic increase of awareness here in Saudi for people with disabilties. I think the Kingdom is trying, but there is just too much to be done in raising the bar for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are living with this. Relgiously, as Muslims we believe in the Qadar of Allah. That is, we believe that Allah has every single little thing totally planned out. But I feel here in Saudi this belief overshadows something important for us as Muslims as well, and that is we are to try our best, to strive for the best result. Here in Saudi, it is common to see parents who obviously love their children, but yet do not bring in their children for special needs services until they are 5-7 years old and too heavy to carry around. These parents and families should be made aware of the resources around them because often times they are completely oblivious to services which they may very well be entitled to. 
What have you done to get familes of special needs children involved? 

I've done workshops for mothers, written emails to both mothers and fathers, have consulted with some schools here in Madinah, have made rec's to the Prophets Mosque for improved accessibility and am working on some letters to the Ministries inshaAllah.

Are you an advocate for more awareness, programs and services to be available to people living in Saudi?

Absolutely. I feel that everyone, regardless of one's degree,  should be an advocate. It is a Islamic responsibility to care for others and give good advice whenever possible. Compassion is crucial and I am loud about educating others in anway I can especially when it comes towards the issue of 'pity'. Honestly, no one loves to be pitied. So rather than throwing sympathy at a person who is obviously struggling with something, offering them empathy works much better because it is a tool of motivation for them.

Do you offer any private services for disabiled people in your area?

Yes. Alhamdulilah. Sometimes Ill meet them at the Prophets Masjid, at schools and however Allah enables me to. 
Last but not least, how did you find out about I am Special With Needs!? 

Google & Facebook. Im always looking out for new contacts here in Saudi. Alhamdulilah I have a growing network around the Kingdom.

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