You may know that finding and engaging in meaningful occupation improves quality of life and it also defines who we are as individuals, but what does the term ‘meaningful’ actually mean? Whether we are a friend, a parent, a partner, a volunteer or an employee, the term ‘meaningful’ can indicate a variety of ideas including having a purpose, contributing, acceptance and belonging. A statistic provided in a recent presentation highlighted that a quarter of young people aged 15 to 24 years old, on the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) have no friends outside of their family or work colleagues. This in turn has a negative impact on creating meaningful connections. Another astounding statistic given in this presentation was that 46% of people living with a disability in Australia are living on or below the poverty line, creating barriers to accessing services that support health and well being. With these statistics in mind, it is inevitable that therapists who are working with individuals are striving to find and promote engagement in meaningful tasks, whether this be at school, in employment or in the extended community.
This raises the question, what can we do as Occupational Therapists to help? With each person having an individualised journey, one answer will not suffice and cannot be predicted. For the purpose of an example let’s consider an individual who enjoys gaming and is living with Autism. We know that a component of an Autism diagnosis is impaired social skills and many members of the public will discourage gaming and technology use, due to beliefs that it has negative impacts on social skills. However technology can incorporate Virtual Reality (VR), along with promoting development of creativity and problem solving skills through gaming. With guidance, these skills can be applied to real life situations such as in group work at school, working as a team in the workforce, and in identifying skills when interviewing for a job. The idea of overuse and addiction with technology cannot be ignored, however this example demonstrates how an individual living with a disability can form friendships in the gaming community and become a valued part of a peer group, generating meaningful connections. Building on this, the meaningful connections developed in the gaming community can be replicated and generalised in the school or work environments as well with the help of an Occupational Therapist.
Whether individuals like gaming or not, as therapists we focus on capacity building so individuals who are living with a disability can use their strengths and contribute to society in a positive manner, thereby achieving a sense of satisfaction from meaningful engagement. Along with this, capacity building can allow individuals to have the skills and knowledge to be an active part of their planning for the NDIS ensuring they are working towards their own goals.
As a community, we can create opportunities to advocate for individuals living with a disability to have equitable access to services and support. Through this, we hope to create a society that accepts and accounts for individualisation so each person is provided with an equal opportunity to find and engage in meaningful activity. If you would like additional information on this, please speak to your Occupational Therapist.