The Journal of an OT Shadow Part 1

I’m copying the journal entries first and then explaining them in more detail down below. Journal entries from my current OT shadow who just started 🙂 Yes, I’m apparently a goddess….but I felt that way about my OTs when I first started shadowing too, fifty million years ago. 🙂 No editing except to change names and add line breaks.

October X 2013


Today was my first day working with Karen, the OT for XYZ School District

I have never felt so excited about a life changing decision in my entire life. I am absolutely obsessed with OT and after working with the children and watching Karen impact their day I am positive this is the career path I am meant to be in. 

She tells the children it is her job to make peoples lives easier and it was then that I realized how impacted these children’s lives are by their disabilities and how important the job of an OT actually is. She has the children start the session with a task they often have to complete in class such as opening their binder, or stacking papers in order. 

I was astonished at how long it took for them and felt so much compassion for these children. I can’t imagine how frustrating it must be for them to keep up and learn in school when they have trouble completing a small task. Karen broke down the task in such small easy to understand steps that I would have never thought of before. Sometimes when she had a child do something like turn on the light I was confused and didn’t realize she was actually checking to see how they were paying attention or following directions. 

I came to the realization that helping these children help themselves with small tasks would allow them to pay attention and follow directions better in the classroom setting so they could keep up with their classmates.


I love the focus OT has on anxiety and self esteem. I was a very slow learner and never thought that I was smart in school. I was so moved the way Karen spoke to one little boy and made him look her in the eyes and tell her that he was smart. These children probably feel inadequate in school, and you could just see the way she had made him feel smart and special when he left.



NOTES BY KAREN: Shadow will learn that everyone has a different idea of priority and focus once she starts to see more therapists in action….I definitely do a lot of my approach via increasing self-esteem and decreasing anxiety. She also learned in her first few days that while it seemed at times I was being off-task/”slow”/inefficient/asking them to do odd things/not providing them with important items, I was actually 95% of the time doing it for the benefit of the kids…forcing them to ask for what they need, find what they need, follow basic directions and sequencing, do heavy work as they walk in the door to “set up”, give them some information or part of the task but not enough to finish it without some basic problem solving or requesting assistance, etc….simulating the kind of things that happen in a classroom setting. 

For example I might give them part of a task or task instructions without necessary supplies, then turn away and start “being busy” with something else for a minute to see what they do….if nothing happens, I turn around and cue as minimally as possible and act surprised….ie….why haven’t you started? “Because we don’t have pencils” and take it from there). After a few times of this being done dramatically they catch on, typically. Shadow wanted to help, ie popping up to get the pencils, and I had to let her know after a few minutes that unless I cued her “Miss Shadow, can you…” that I was being slow to force the kids to initiate and problem-solve. It’s one of those things that have to be explained because of course it makes sense to pop up and get pencils for kids who don’t have them when it seems like I just forgot. I would have done the same thing. And sometimes I do cue her to do it because I legitimately forgot! But usually….intentional mistakes. 🙂 


October Y 2013


I was working with a child JaneDoe on her math homework and was totally caught off guard by something Karen had shown her. She showed JaneDoe how to eliminate answers on a multiple- choice test without completing the problem first. I thought this was odd and that JaneDoe would cheat rather than finish the problem and I didn’t think it was a good idea. I later learned that JaneDoe often freaks out on tests and that she has very low self -esteem when it comes to test taking and Karen was trying to empower her and give her some confidence in herself during the test. 

I would have never thought of this, and was amazed at the small way Karen was able to help her have confidence during the test.  I also did not understand that JaneDoe bombs the tests and does not have time to finish. This showed me how OT really looks at the big picture and helps people deal with real problems rather than on the small scale how to get an answer correct, but how to complete a test overall and how to take all test efficiently and fix a larger scale problem rather than division skills.

*****(NOTES BY KAREN: Yes, I was working on test strategies rather than answers, including how to approach a multiple choice test and eliminate obviously wrong answers  – many of our kids KNOW the material but freeze up on tests due to stress/insecurity as well as not knowing how to approach a test. I do this from the OT angle though, of strategies, problem solving, slant boards/masking, visual clutter reduction, sequencing, etc etc) I want to write a whole blog post on this soon but for now…..yes, it was about having a child approach the test with confidence that they can get through it in the fastest and easiest way possible, that since they know the material they can do well on a multiple choice test because it’s a game, and that the answers are always right there.

It’s not about whether the child can do every single question correctly, it’s about whether the child feels confidence in their ability based on new OT-based skills, and can do better on the test, for example, if they have a 50% chance of right answer versus 25% by eliminating an answer or two without even having to do the full problem. Etc etc. Many times “strategy” starts with a feeling of confidence and empowerment and then it goes from there with foundational skills related to OT….and of course the academic ones, but I’m focusing on my part! 

They have to have foundational set-up skills to be able to do the academics efficiently/correctly/securely! Oh and yes, our children typically have IEP accommodations to allow for extra time….but extra time doesn’t mean much if the child becomes discouraged or easily fatigues and just gives up after a while!) 


Alright now for the chat about having a long-term OT shadow! I’m just naming her “Shadow” for the purpose of this blog but I don’t mean it in a rude/degrading way. I love her and it’s just an easy describing name! 

My shadows have been prospective OT student, both long-term. I’ve had great experiences so far (although this is only my second, and we interview carefully first!!). The initial set-up for them both in a district sense and an OT sense is challenging at first in terms of adminstration/hoops to jump through, but can be totally worth it. However, before a bunch of OTs get bombarded by hopeful shadows – every district/company is different, every OT is different in what they want or can handle, different legalities/policies….

Luckily my current shadow like
s to write and I’ve asked her to do some journaling for both herself and possibly for the blog. I just replace names out. 

I really encouraged her to not censor anything or not worry about relevance, etc, but so far I don’t think she believes me since this is like the nicest fan letter ever, ahahahaaha. 

She doesn’t know me well yet but I will continue to encourage her to be “real” – since I feel pretty certain she won’t be so flattering at all times….she’s in the honeymoon stage. 😉 She wants to organize the notes for me and I keep telling her not to do a thing unless its for HERSELF – I like transparency, and the messiness of learning, not the re-assembled learning after we go back and fix things with new knowledge. I like for people to see the WHAT?!!!! and the pre-fixing…the learning out loud, not the “learning out later”…actually I like both together, first out loud, then out later….nice to see the process.

Whoops I’m rambling again. My shadow is doing a great job and trying hard to meet my needs, I’m going to have to keep pushing her to include that my needs include not meeting my needs, ahahahaaha, meaning sharing the messy and scattered and unknown and MEAN things like “what the hell is she doing?” even if she figures it out later that it wasn’t as weird as it looked. ahahaha

So while her journal entries above are a way too glowing testimony (although when I look back at me as a prospective OT student I thought my OTs were gods for a long time), I do want you guys to see what it looks like when you are new and trying to figure stuff out.

There are a few pieces that aren’t 100% accurate in terms of IEP process but she is writing it based on only a few days of knowledge – so feel free to comment on whatever, but realize it’s a perspective that doesn’t have a whole or fully accurate picture yet, so please don’t assume something isn’t happening based on a statement…


In conclusion – I’m hoping to continue to share what Shadow is willing to share about the learning out loud process of figuring out what OT is even when it doesn’t make sense at first (or ever, haha), but also encouraging her to get that it is TOTALLY okay if it’s not this glowing, nicely organized piece…maybe next time it will be all over the place, that would make me even happier…;) ) 

Oct 22, 2013 | Category: Occupational Therapy | Comments: 1