By Kate Hunger
A new pilot project developed by a recent graduate of the occupational therapy program helps adolescents and young adults with disabilities develop independent life skills such as making meals and doing laundry.
The project, Pediatric-Adolescent Acquisition of Life Skills (PAALS), was the doctoral capstone project of Taylor Buchanan, a 2021 graduate of the occupational therapy program. Elizabeth Marsh, OTR, MS, MOT, of Pediatric Therapy Specialists, identified the need for outpatient services for youths transitioning to adulthood and helped Buchanan develop the program, Buchanan said.
“These skills are something they don’t always have under their belt from traditional occupational therapy,” Buchanan explained.
Buchanan applied for and received a community engagement small projects grant from the Institute for Integration of Medicine and Science (IIMS) for the project, which is titled “The Implementation of Community-Based Life Skills Program for Adolescents and Young Adults with Disabilities.” The project is one of seven to receive IIMS community engagement small project grants in 2020-2021.
“I am very glad they decided to support us in the next year and help this pilot program grow,” he said, adding that the program had four learners enrolled at the end of June.
Located at the San Antonio office of Pediatric Therapy Specialists, the PAALS program provides two hours of outpatient therapy weekly for eight to 12 weeks and individualized recommendations for participants and their parents to practice skills at home. The program is designed to serve 60 learners between the ages of 13 and 21 over the course of one year. Parents of participants complete a survey at the beginning of the program to help determine the skills to be addressed.
The program offers a range of skills practice, including basic living skills such as grooming, basic communication and morning and nighttime routines, home skills such as making meals, housekeeping and simple maintenance, community participation skills such as shopping, money management and social cues, and independent living skills, including problem solving, self-advocacy and organizational skills.
Buchanan ran a scaled-down version of the pilot program for his capstone project. He said he plans to share learnings from the project to increase awareness and understanding of the need for outpatient services for the target population in the study.
“When we discuss this information, I hope OTs and business owners nationwide are able to recognize that there is a need and there are things we can do in the outpatient setting to support this population and make a difference in the lives of those with special needs in their transition to adulthood,” he said. “They are going to grow up and sometimes those supports aren’t going to be available to them as frequently.”
Occupational Therapy Assistant Professor Ana Allegretti, PhD, OTR, is the faculty sponsor for the program. She noted that the project’s focus—helping adolescents and young adults attain skills necessary for the transition to adulthood—is a priority area for research identified by the National Institutes of Health. Buchanan’s engagement in research affirms her efforts to inspire students to see the potential research offers to make a meaningful difference in the lives of patients, Dr. Allegretti said.
“It’s very rewarding as a professor to see students developing their own projects,” she said.