by Abby Brayton-Chung, OTR/L
Wow! What an experience. The 94th Annual AOTA Conference held in Baltimore was buzzing with energy and excitement for the profession of occupational therapy. As a first time conference attendee, there was so much I wanted to see and do! Today I’m sharing some of my conference experience highlights.
Educational Sessions – The AOTA Annual Conference is a great opportunity to attend a variety of educational sessions and earn CEUs. I focused on attending sessions geared toward pediatrics, but was still able to fit in a variety of types of sessions, from workshops to research platforms to roundtable discussions. A few highlights for me included learning about the Self-Care with Flair! guide for teaching children self-care skills, hearing Dr. Anne Zachry present her research on caregiver awareness of prone play positions, and a session titled “Pack Your Lunchbox: Feeding Tools and Techniques for the Occupational Therapist.”
Expo Hall – The Expo Hall was huge! And it was packed with so many exhibitors that I didn’t even come close to making it to them all. I made PediaStaff one of my first stops because I didn’t want to leave without one of their awesome thumballs! I know this will make the regular rotation of toys I use in therapy. I also made sure to stop by the AOTA Marketplace, where I picked up a copy of the new “Infant and Child Feeding and Swallowing” book. I’ve been wanting this book since it came out, but I’m glad I held out until conference, where everything from AOTA Press was 20% off!
Keynote – The keynote address might have been THE highlight of conference for me. The keynote was held as a question and answer session between AOTA President Ginny Stoffel and three wounded warriors, Staff Sergeant Travis Mills, Sergeant
Monte Bernardo, and Corporal Tim Donley. These three men gave such an insightful, inspiring, and at times, hilarious, account of their experiences of losing their limbs in battle, the road back to independence, and the role that OT played in their recovery. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to hear these men speak. To top it all off, Corporal Tim Donley sang a resounding rendition of Hallelujah to close the evening. For a taste of what AOTA attendees got to hear, check out this YouTube video of Tim singing with the Musicorps.
Posters – My days were filled with educational sessions from morning until evening, but I made sure to fit in time to run through the poster sessions. One of the highlights for me was a poster titled, “Picky Eating: Influencing Healthy Eating Habits in an After-School Setting” presented by students from Maryville University. They used a “Mystery Motivator” game to encourage kids to try new foods. I love when I walk away from a poster with an idea that I can try as soon as I get back to work!
Presidential Address – AOTA President Dr. Ginny Stoffel’s Inaugural Address was titled, “Attitude, Authenticity, and Action: Building Capacity for Occupational Therapy.” Dr. Stoffel reminded attendees of the power of attitude, the value of authenticity in relationships, and that actions speak louder than words. What spoke to me the most was Dr. Stoffel’s encouragement that every AOTA member is a leader. We can all be leaders for the profession, no matter our experience. As AOTA strives to reach its Centennial Vision, it’s important that we all step up to be leaders for OT.
Leadership Reception – As a member of AOTA’s new Volunteer Leadership Development Committee (VLDC), we co-hosted a brand new Leadership Development Networking Reception on Friday night. Let’s just say, the room was packed! It was so exciting to see so many practitioners interested in and excited about leadership for the profession of OT.
Slagle Lecture – Maralynn Mitcham, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, gave the Eleanor Clarke Slagle Lecture this year, “Education as Engine.” Dr. Mitcham gave an inspiring lecture on the future of OT education, and reminded us all to SEE with our occupational filters, HEAR with our occupational ears, and THINK with our occupational noodles, as occupation truly is the core of it all.
Special Interest Section Sessions – The Special Interest Sections (SIS) of AOTA held Buzz Sessions on topics of current interest, as well as Roundtable Discussions on hot topics, and I am so glad that I went to these sessions. These might have been my favorite educational sessions of conference! The SISIS Buzz Session, “Implementing Sensory Strategies in the Home and Community” gave me so many great ideas to implement with my early intervention clients and was a great opportunity to interact and network with other OTs. I was truly inspired by Dr. Rosemarie Bigsby during the SISIS Roundtable, “Impact of Sensory Experiences in the NICU & During the Transition Home,” and am so glad that I showed up 45 minutes early so I could get a seat and participate in the discussion. The roundtable discussions are limited to about 30 people, which truly allows it to be a discussion.
Tech Day – On Saturday, the ballroom was filled with technology! Tech Day consisted of interactive presentations on all things tech related. I didn’t have much time to attend Tech Day, so I ran through quickly in the morning and now I have an entire list of apps to support vision therapy to check out! I will definitely try to carve out more time for Tech Day in the future.
Tweet Up – AOTA held its second annual Tweet Up, which had a huge turnout! It was so much fun to meet fellow tweeters in person (Cheryl, Allison, and Heather, just to name a few), and to see the growing use of social media among occupational therapists. AOTA also had a Twitter Wall this year, so all attendees, whether they used Twitter or not, could see all of the conference related tweets in real time. The conference hashtag was #AOTA14, but some other hashtags became popular throughout the weekend, including #GetItGinny, which was used to support the work of AOTA President Ginny Stoffel.
Networking – One of the best things about attending the AOTA Conference was the opportunity to meet so many occupational therapists. I currently work in early intervention, which is a practice area that can be a bit isolating at times due to the nature of working in clients’ homes, so it was great to meet many wonderful EI occupational therapists over the course of the weekend! In addition, I met many great OTs from all practice areas, which just doesn’t happen in the day to day life of an OT.
Fun Run – Running is meaningful occupation of mine, so I was excited to see that AOTA was holding an informal Fun Run. On Saturday morning I got up extra early and headed down to the Inner Harbor for a 5k run. I love to start my day with a run! The Inner Harbor was beautiful and I was grateful for the excuse to get out and explore the city. I spent so much time in the Conference Center, I didn’t even see much of Baltimore!
As you can see, I crammed a lot into my three days at the AOTA Annual Conference! With so many OTs in one place, there is an abundance of passion and excitement about the profession. It certainly filled me with lots of new ideas that I am taking back to share with my colleagues and clients. I hope to see you all next year in Nashville!
About the Author: Abby Brayton-Chung, MS, OTR/L, is a pediatric occupational therapist practicing in Southern California. Abby has experience working with children of all ages in a variety of settings, including public and private schools, home-based early intervention, and clinic based outpatient therapy. Abby shares resources and blogs about her experiences as a pediatric occupational therapist aon her blog, OT Café, at www.abbypediatricot.blogspot.com.