Real-life story: Nicki

When I was a teenager, I signed up in the school holidays to help on a camp for people the same age as myself who had a learning disability. I was partnered up with Rachel and both of us had a brilliant time doing outdoor pursuits, trying different activities together and making new friends.  The week had been so fun and rewarding that by the end of it, I had decided that I would love to go on and pursue a career that enabled me to work with people with learning disabilities.  

I now work as a Clinical Specialist Occupational Therapist in a community learning disability team with Sussex Partnership.  I find it hugely rewarding that my work can result in long-term improvements to someone’s quality of life or independence. 

How I got into the role

Whilst I was a student and after graduating, I worked in a number of health and social care settings to gain more experience and help me decide which career path to pursue. This included working for a year as an occupational therapy assistant in a rehabilitation unit. I loved that the focus of the job was about helping people to live their lives to the full and on what they could do, rather than focusing on what they couldn’t do because of their disabilities or health limitations. 

When I realised that occupational therapists work in very varied settings and that I could combine working with people who have a learning disability and being an occupational therapist, I decided that this was definitely the right profession for me.

I undertook my occupational therapy training and on qualifying I was fortunate to be accepted on a rotation that involved working for 6 months in a number of different physical and mental health settings, which put me in good stead for when I specialised. My final rotation was within a community learning disability team and when a position became available for a permanent role in the team I jumped at the chance!

What I do

My team works with a very diverse group of people, for example in their life stage and goals as well as the type of and degree of learning disability a person has.  Many of the people we work with have multiple and complex needs that may include physical or mental health needs, behaviours that can be challenging to support, or social disadvantages. The focus of my role within the team is to help people overcome the barriers that stop them from doing everyday activities that are important and relevant to them. The work is very varied, and I get to meet people in lots of different situations and sometimes in conjunction with other people working with the person such as paid carers, social workers or other health professionals. 

I use a wide range of assessments and interventions depending on the person’s needs and goals, for example to find out how a person can best develop skills in practical activities such as cooking or travelling by themselves and helping them to achieve this; advising on suitable sensory activities to increase a person’s ability to  take part in activities or to give activities more meaning for a person; or making changes to a person’s physical environment such as recommending equipment or technologies that could help someone to complete their daily activities more safely or independently.  I get to go to lots of different places to do this work including people homes or respite settings, in the community, at places of work and day services.

The best bits

My role is incredibly varied and gives me the opportunity to draw on all my occupational therapy skills and work creatively and holistically with people as well as their families / carers and other professionals. I have the privilege to work with so many interesting and inspiring people and no day is ever the same.