Occupational therapy blog

My name is Rachel Harwood, and I am Lead Occupational Therapist for the Division for Autistic Spectrum Disorders and Learning Disability (ASD/LD) at St Andrew's Healthcare. I have worked for St Andrews Healthcare for 23 years.

The Division is 127 beds for men and women of working age (18-65yrs) made up of 13 units including rehab, low secure and medium secure environments. Eight for men with a primary diagnosis of Autistic Spectrum Disorders, two for men with a primary diagnosis of Learning Disability and three for women with a primary diagnosis of Learning Disability.

“Learning new things, counting and organising, having a good talk with different people. It’s really friendly and very therapeutic!” Patient supported by Rachel Harwood, Senior Occupational Therapist and Jacki Roberts, OTTI from Oak Ward, ASD/LD Division at St Andrew’s Healthcare.

Occupational Therapy is concerned with an individual’s motivation for occupation their habits, routines, roles and values, the skills they require to engage in meaningful occupation and how the environment interacts within these. Interventions are designed to encourage independence and ensure the whole person is considered; mentally, physically, socially and emotionally to support wellbeing and to reach optimum potential.

Vocational activities are core to the practice of occupational therapy.  

Having a purpose and engagement in productive occupations is fundamental to a person’s health and wellbeing. Employment provides structure, self-identity, social inclusion and a means to provide for yourself. There is no health without mental health, and mental health is interconnected with occupations including employment.

My work sees me supporting patients with ASD and LD.  

Most people want to work and have skills and talents that would be useful in the workplace. Adults with ASD & LD are currently significantly underrepresented in the labour market. This has a detrimental impact on their financial circumstances and social inclusion, as well as being a waste of skills and abilities.

My involvement with Workbridge as an Occupational Therapist is supporting patients to access meaningful vocational skills that provide the ‘just right challenge’ for that individual. This may involve grading and tailoring activities that are specific and as unique as the individual. One of the first stages of the vocational pathway is the Workbridge Work and Social Programme (WWASP).

WWASP Workbridge

WWASP is a great starting point to engage patients in a vocational environment away from the safety and security of the ward.  WWASP offers a safe space to interact with other people day to day, encourage self-identity, confidence and understanding of their role in a team. The setting also helps maintain their existing skills and develop new ones.

From my experience I have always been encouraged and inspired by how my patients respond positively to having a recognised, purposeful role which promotes a sense of belonging, responsibility, empowerment, pride and achievement.