The Occupation of Social Participation


The Occupational Therapy Framework, which I had to memorize by heart as a college student, breaks down our lives into seven occupations.  The goal at mind is to find happiness, independence, and balance between the seven occupations:

  • Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)
  • Instruments of Daily Living (IADLs)
  • Rest & Sleep
  • Education
  • Work
  • Play
  • Leisure
  • Social Participation

As a fully-functioning “typical” adult, I find it hard at times to find the balance between all of these aspects of my own life.

Imagine, doing so as a child with special needs.  Forget about it feeling “tricky”.  At times it feels nearly impossible.

Every single one of those areas have needed adaptations and modifications for Brian to reach his utmost ability.  Some have lacked at times and then grown and then regressed again.  Some have great success now (rest & sleep- thank goodness!).  But Social Participation has always been a very difficult one for us to figure out.

Most “typical” children have the abilities to join sports teams, after school clubs, programs at their local library, and so forth.  They have friends calling to hang out and birthday invitations coming home in the backpack.  Children like Brian, don’t have access to all of that.

Last month, I received one of the regular emails from our school reminding us of upcoming programs.  One after-school club popped out at me, Farm Hands.  My oldest had actually participated in it a couple of years ago and enjoyed learning about taking care of cattle.  Brian, as many know, has a particular fondness (obsession) with animals.  I wanted Brian to join but as usual knew he wouldn’t be able to without an adult providing him one-to-one assistance and I wasn’t even sure if the farm would be open to us trying. I ran the idea by my husband and asked him if he thought we could budget hiring someone to be Brian’s aide, when he reminded me that it was actually occurring on a day that he had off and he, of course, would love to go with Brian to the program. I reached out to the program and they were immediately receptive to the idea, even when I told them we couldn’t guarantee Brian to be quiet or calm around the calves (bullet points that were on their disclaimers for children to adhere to if they were going to be a part of the program). And so we had it, Brian’s very first after-school program. farm Brian and Colin set out last week to their very first session.  According to my husband,  the staff and the other children were all patient and accommodating and extremely welcoming to Brian.  Brian was nervous and refused to participate at first, but after watching the other children, made up his own mind to join in.  He even ended up bridling a calf! farm2 He keeps talking about his experience and can’t wait until tomorrow.  “Farm!  Colin!  Monday!” is a frequent script around the house. I’m not sure when I talk about it to other people or even to the staff of Aldermere Farm, if they really get what this means to our family.  That they have actually opened up a door to a huge part of Brian’s life that has been lacking immensely.  And we couldn’t be more grateful!

Heather Nelson

About Heather Nelson

Heather resides in Rockland where she is busy juggling life as a newlywed, a mom to two boys (one of which who has autism), a part time job in direct sales, and a full-time job as a pediatric occupational therapy assistant. She has a love for live music, karaoke, and cheering on the underdogs.