I think that Covid-19 may have been the biggest curve ball so far in my career! I’ve worked in the NHS, Social Services and independently. First I worked as an Associate of another independent company and then I started up my own business so that I could follow my own dreams and work to my own values.

Everything was going well…until Covid-19 and Social Distancing struck! An Occupational Therapy career that involves me visiting children in their own homes and schools required a very sudden change to ensure that I could continue to support families and also earn a living. I will be honest, I wasn’t sure how my business would survive the Covid-19 pandemic. How was I going to help my existing clients? How was I going to support my own family? But you know what? I’m pleased to say that I have thrived.

As part of my ongoing training in Ayres Sensory Integration, I quickly found myself added to a Covd-19 WhatsApp group set up by Sensory Project, for fellow professionals who had suddenly found that their usual ways of working couldn’t continue. Its amazing how a bit of peer support can encourage you to get creative and find new ways of working.

The first week was pretty bad, just before lockdown happened. Schools phoning me to cancel my visits and me trying to get some review sessions moved to telephone calls to save on the travel which would be deemed “unnecessary”.

I’m not sure who introduced me to Zoom, but it has been a life saver! I’ve tried other services over the past few months and I know that there were security challenges in the beginning, but with waiting rooms and password protected meetings, I’ve satisfied myself that the security is sufficient to meet my needs. This has been my way of working with kids since Monday 23rd March!

I am “lucky” that my husband is on long term sick leave, so has been able to look after my kids, as if he hadn’t been, I have no idea how things would have worked out. One of those times that you are grateful for something that isn’t the best thing for the family. But anyway, it has really helped us with enabling me to work and support as many families as possible.

Bryher's children playing with therapy equipment including gym ball, weighted fox and movement cushion in her office whilst she tries to work.
Does anyone else have this situation with home working?

We’ve made a few changes at home – my office has had a redesign and I’ve had to invest in a microphone, speakers and a larger computer monitor. They’ve all made work life easier for me though, so well worth it. I’m really grateful that I had bought a webcam for my business mentoring which I started in February, as its jumped up by £50 on Amazon!

What has maybe surprised me the most is how much work I can actually do online. Yes its different, but I’d say there’s probably only 10% of my role that is currently missing, and that is the part where I take giant suitcases of equipment into homes and schools and get kids to throw balls at targets, spin on turntables and use their hands for very specific challenges so that I can get a score of their performance compared to age related peers. Funnily enough, although I can’t get these “standardised” scores by seeing kids online, I can still get loads of observational information from engaging them in similar activities.

I was also extremely lucky just prior to lockdown to make links with the Operation Diversity Academy who have taken me on as one of their Expert Professionals. I complete monthly Question and Answer sessions on Zoom and also am grateful for a number of referrals from their families.

My whole process has changed and I have devised an assessment programme that I adapt for each child I see, but that will enable me to get all of the information that I require about their function and performance to be able to prepare reports to demonstrate their needs in relation to their health and education. I am still acting as an Expert Witness and have even been able to attend a webinar with Sunshine Support which has enhanced my skills in this area.

A screenshot of Zoom with Bryher and an anonymised child working on handwriting skills.
Practicing writing fluency during a treatment session

I think the best part is that I have helped more families in the past 12 weeks than I probably have in the past 12 months, thanks to being able to work from home and not spend several hours per day driving between visits. I can now help kids anywhere in the UK. The commute is also amazing and I have discovered that getting up at 6am and getting an hour of work in before the kids wake up is really useful.

So since the 23rd March 2020, I have only left the Bridgend area once – for a socially distanced house viewing for a client of mine, and today I will be seeing her for a socially distanced tricycle assessment with TomCat. These are two of the few things that I would not be able to do on Zoom!

A TomCat Fizz tricycle.
The TomCat Fizz

I’ve also got to see some pretty cool stuff – kids love to show you their houses, their rooms, their belongings and their pets! I’ve even “met” snakes and leaches. Amazing for building rapport.

Bryher “meeting” a child’s snake

And do you know what? I like this. I like not driving. I like being able to help more people. I still get to engage and build rapport, its just a bit different now. Will it continue? I can’t see schools letting in external visitors for quite some time, and kids are still going to need help. So for now, this is me and this is my way of working.

Maybe we will “meet” on Zoom soon?