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Occupational Therapy team focuses on patient safety with new initiative
5 minute read

Occupational Therapy team focuses on patient safety with new initiative


We spotlight the Occupational Therapy team at SickKids, which supports children like Scarlett with everyday 'occupations'. Learn more about a new innovative initiative being rolled out by the team.

By Ryan Durgy, Intern, Communications and Public Affairs

October is Occupational Therapy (OT) Month at SickKids and the team is taking the time to generate awareness about a new patient safety initiative the OT team is taking part in.

Maggie Harkness, Clinical Manager of Rehabilitation Services and Professional Practice Lead for Occupational Therapy, is working with her team of OTs and collaborating with other departments in the hospital to implement the International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative (IDDSI).

International Dysphagia Diet Standardization Initiative

The initiative is about standardizing language and terminology about recommendations made for children who have swallowing problems, also known as dysphagia. The IDDSI was created by an international task force of experts in feeding and swallowing to provide an age-span relevant, culturally sensitive framework to describe texture modified foods and thickened liquids for adults and children with swallowing problems.

Group of 16 staff gathered in a colourful gymnasium/play area. Front row is sitting on large exercise balls.
Some of the Occupational Therapy team at SickKids are all smiles as they celebrate Occupational Therapy Month. Back row, left to right: Christine O'Brien, Suzanne Breton, Lisa Lazzarotto, Nicky Brookes, Kate Turner, Dalia Ebeda. Middle row, left to right: Vanessa Gaglia, Elizabeth Elwood, Alysha Friedman, Melissa McKinnon, Ashley Graham. Front row, left to right: Joan Vertes, Erin Fraser, Sherna Marcus, Lori Burton.

Patient safety was top of mind for the OT team as they rolled out the IDDSI at the hospital to standardize language and terminology about recommendations made for children who have swallowing problems.

“Many clinics, centres and hospitals were using different language to describe the same things. This initiative helps to ensure that health-care providers are on the same page with the terminology being used to describe the thickness of liquids being used for patients with swallowing problems,” Maggie says. “We are aligning our terminology with the international dysphagia community, all in the name of patient safety.”

The IDDSI terminology is now being piloted in SickKids’ inpatient units.

Occupational therapists break down the everyday

Occupational Therapists consider occupations to be anything meaningful that a person does in their everyday life. Occupations can be broken down into self-care, productivity and leisure. For kids, these things can include eating, going to school, and playing.

One of the many important roles of the OT team is to analyze why children can’t feed or swallow properly due to illness or injury.

Toddler sitting in a high chair smiling at the adult who is feeding them with a spoon.
Patients like Scarlett and her mom Amanda have worked closely with the Occupational Therapy team here at SickKids.

For patients like baby Scarlett, who was born with her organs outside her body (known as omphalocele), the work of occupational therapists is life-changing.

“The Occupational Therapy team has helped us with everything!” Scarlett’s mother, Amanda Seymour, says. “We started working on movement because Scarlett wasn’t able to move freely as she was restricted due to her medical and respiratory issues. We also worked with the team to find the right feeding techniques for her because her food would go in and she would spit it right out.”

Since her birth, 15-month-old Scarlett and her mom have worked with SickKids Occupational Therapist Suzanne Breton.

“We look at developmental milestones and feeding is one of those developmental milestone,” Suzanne says. “Once Scarlett was deemed ready by her medical team, Amanda and I worked together on the next steps whenever Scarlett showed interest to help her develop the skills she needed to safely take liquids or purees by mouth.”

Amanda is thankful for Suzanne’s dedication to her daughter and other children like her.

“Yes, I’m Scarlett’s mom but without the extra help of professionals who can guide me through this, she probably wouldn’t be at this stage,” Amanda says.

Maggie says families place a lot of value on the work OTs do because they work with children and caregivers to help them get back to doing things that are meaningful – like safely feeding their child.

“Feeding is an activity that is so meaningful to parent and caregivers. In a complex medical situation, if we can normalize the feeding experience, that means a lot to parents and caregivers."

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