During my second week in Guatemala, I completed my service learning experience. For my service learning, I visited Missionaries of the Highway or Misioneros Del Camino. Missionaries consists of a campus that includes, a home/orphanage for the children, a school, a clinic, and a special education classroom within the clinic. Misioneros Del Camino is a nonprofit organization that provides care, treatment and education to children. During this second week, I mainly spent my time working with the children in the clinic. Here I learned more about the practice of occupational therapy with children with disabilities. There were multiple settings in the clinic which each served the children’s specific needs. These settings included, a sensory integration area, fine motor, the special education classroom paired with psychology, and physical therapy with a focus on adaptive equipment.
While spending time in the clinic, I had the opportunity to work along with a practicing occupational therapist in each of the settings. I learned more about testing and treatments that can be used for children who present in different ways. Additionally, I learned more about the healthcare system in Guatemala and the diagnosis process. While working in the special education classroom I recognized the problem with over diagnosis. This wasn’t something that only occurs in Guatemala but also in the U.S. as well. One of the children we worked with was diagnosed with autism. This child really did not have autism though, she was just extremely shy and because she did not verbally communicate or make eye contact, the doctors and family believed that she had autism. This is a common mistake that many healthcare workers can make and it made me recognize the lack of thoroughness in healthcare systems.
In addition to this, I learned more about processing in children. An example of processing is choosing activities or steps in a process. While working with one child we recognized her difficulty with choosing activities. We set up an obstacle course and allowed her to choose the fourth step; this child could not decide what she wanted to do next. Even when she was provided with two options, such as, jump through a hoop or do jumping jacks, she had difficulty choosing. I found this very interesting because at this point in my schooling I had not learned much about processing and how it could affect everyday activities. From this experience, I became really interested in processing and the techniques used to encourage decision making.
In addition to working with the children in the clinic setting, I also had the opportunity to visit a child’s home and work with his adaptive equipment in his everyday environment. I thought this was very important to my service learning experience because it allowed me to see how the children participated in his environment. I was able to see some of the difficulties he experienced in his everyday life in regards to his maneuverability around his home. I also was able to see how he overcame those difficulties and how he and his family adapted their home. This was very important to see because as an occupational therapist one of our main goals is to increase participation within the client’s everyday environment. I really enjoyed this experience because I was able to provide additional ideas to help the family and the child, in regards to increasing maneuverability and adapting his equipment to allow for it to be more comfortable and suitable to the child’s needs.
Another experience I enjoyed was the interaction from the parents and caregivers during treatment. Prior to visiting Guatemala, it was explained to us that parents of children with disabilities feel guilty for their child’s disability because they tend to be blamed for it and viewed negatively by their peers. They also explained that some children with disabilities are neglected and hidden from their families in order to avoid ridicule. Though this may be true, I did not see this during my service learning experience. Many of the families and caregivers came to therapy with their child and participated in the experience by doing the therapy with the child and interacting with the therapists. This was very enlightening because it showed how much the families cared and showed how they wanted the best for their children. I think it shows a lot of love for their children and it really helps the therapists to provide the best care possible. This also excites me for my future and allows me to look forward to the help and encouragement I could provide to families one day.