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Fit & Flex at Holland Bloorview.

Can't stop the fun of Therapeutic Recreation

It’s not unusual to see a kid leave Holland Bloorview with paint on their clothes and a brand-new masterpiece in their hand.

Or to see someone speed down the hallway on an adaptive bike. Or to see therapeutic recreation (TR) staff use Zoom to lead kids in a game of Jeopardy.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant a lot of changes at Holland Bloorview in order to keep everyone safe. And while therapeutic recreation looks a little different these days, clients can still enjoy therapy-based play thanks to creativity from Holland Bloorview’s TR team.

“We’ve learned to adapt to the changing COVID guidelines related to group sizes to allow for physical distancing at the hospital,” says Lizzy, an inpatient therapeutic recreation specialist. “Having smaller group sizes means our programs can be more targeted and goal-oriented, depending on our clients’ needs and interests.”

TR staff have had to get creative to continue activities for inpatients at the hospital. Life-sized versions of board games like Monopoly, Clue and Candyland keep the play going while allowing for physical distancing. During Easter, staff staged a huge physically-distanced Easter egg hunt. For Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, tea and treats were delivered to each inpatient room and a socially distanced music performance was put on by Team T & J. Halloween also looked a little different this year, with staff decorating doors, with inpatients getting to be the judges. And in December, a real-life horse dressed as a reindeer arrived at the hospital for a magical photo op!

Not all programs can take place in-person, but that hasn’t stopped the fun from happening via virtual platforms like Zoom and Houseparty, or even the outdoors.

Outdoor adaptive bike clinic

This past summer, TR staff began hosting outdoor adaptive bike clinics to help kids with disabilities stay active. Families would call ahead to arrange their bike assessment appointment and bike options were prepared in advance for them to try. Kristen, a therapeutic recreation specialist, also adds that in the wintertime, families can access adaptive toboggans, skating aids and other gear via curbside pickup.

“We’veactually seen equipment loan requests go up. Families need the service more than ever with limited things to do, they need means to stay active,” says Kristen.

Virtual therapy pet visits

Weekly visits from pet volunteers are a highlight of inpatient stays at Holland Bloorview. Last year, therapy dogs (and cats!) said goodbye for now to in-person visits and logged onto Zoom. Today, inpatients and their families continue to look forward to monthly visits with their favourite therapy pets. Using Zoom, clients play mix-and-match games, Pet Bingo and even Pet Trivia.

Social skills programs  

“A lot of clients have been feeling isolated because they're not seeing their friends at school and that's usually where they would get all their interactions,” says life skills coach Stephanie.

In response, Stephanie and her team rolled out two new programs, Common Room and Rec Room. With Common Room, participants choose a social skills goal such as maintaining a conversation and then work on that goal in virtual sessions with a life skills coach. Everyweek, Common Room participants get together using the app, Houseparty, to practise their skills in real-time.

“With Houseparty app is a way to client to practice their social skills in a less structured environment which they can continue to utilize when the program is complete. It's a time when they can meet on their own terms instead of having staff always present,” says Stephanie.

“With Houseparty, it's not such a structured social skills program. It's a time when they can meet on their own terms instead of having staff always present,” says Stephanie.

Fit & Flex Online     

Fit & Flex is a weekly TR program where clients spend some time doing physiotherapy, before trying out an adaptive sport. Like many TR programs, the program switched over to Zoom during the pandemic. Although Kristen was initially hesitant about how clients would experience Fit & Flex online, the recently-completed pilot session was found to be a big hit.

“We’ve incorporated a lot more focus on self-care and self-expression and so, by the final session, participants made this connection to each other that they weren't doing in-person,” says Kristen.

“Clients were using the chat function on Zoom and forming friendships that maybe they didn't think about before.”

Even though clients and staff look forward to a safe return to Holland Bloorview, the virtual environment offers all kinds of new opportunities for connection. And innovative ideas have made on-site therapeutic recreation flourish over the past year.

“We’ve had many families share how thankful they are to be able to continue participating in therapeutic recreation programs, in a safe way,” says Lizzy

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