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26 October 2018
Dr Annamarie van Jaarsveld believes occupational therapy is important
Dr Annamarie van Jaarsveld believes occupational therapy is important for personal well-being.

On 27 October the profession of occupational therapy is promoted and celebrated internationally. The theme for this year is “Celebrating our global community.” Due to the theme of this year occupational therapists form all over the globe will be able to join in the World Federation for Occupational Therapy Virtual Exchange webinars.
Occupational therapy promotes health and well-being through occupation. The overarching goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life that is meaningful to them. Occupational therapists work with people and communities in an effort to enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them maintain and/or promote health, and prevent (or live better with) injury, illness, or disability. 

Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational and social justice along with occupational deprivation are core within the profession as it relates to oppression or restrictions to participation in occupation impacting on well-being and quality of life. 

Taking the lead in Sensory Integration research

Dr Annamarie van Jaarsveld is a lecturer in the Department of Occupational Therapy, and she is at the forefront of research in sensory integration, a specialist field within occupational therapy. Apart from completing her PhD on the curriculum design of a South African professional master’s degree qualification in sensory integration, she is also heading the South African leg of a large international study in collaboration with sensory integration experts all over the world.

Dr Van Jaarsveld explains: “The Evaluation of Ayres Sensory Integration (EASI) is a new test which aims to be a first of its kind in the field of sensory integration and occupational therapy. It will be inexpensive, electronically accessible and practical, and standardised on an international population which includes a South African sample. This will make the test accessible and useful for therapists in South Africa to be able to assess sensory integration related function of all South African children in a valid and reliable manner.” 

In addition to being the South African lead on the international EASI standardisation study, Annamarie was selected as the chairperson of the Board of Council Meetings of the International Council for Education in Ayres Sensory Integration (ICEASI). She is also the International Liaison on the board of the South African Institute for Sensory Integration. 

Annamarie’s passion for sensory integration and the application of a highly researched and specialised subfield where the expertise and guidance are provided by a first-world country is not only evident in her research, but also in various community projects that she is involved in. One such a project, Back to Urth Playgrounds, aims to make sensory integration relevant to the needs of South African children and their families struggling with sensory integration issues within the realities of diverse contexts. Through the designing of sustainable playgrounds based on sensory integration theory, building the playgrounds in collaboration with the community and other stakeholders, and equipping educators and caregivers with knowledge on how to encourage children to use the playgrounds, Annamarie has contributed to making the potential of sensory integration-based intervention accessible to the most under-resourced of areas. 

With the 27th of October being International Occupational Therapy Day, Annamarie says: “Sensory integration is not only the best researched field within occupational therapy, providing more and more best practice evidence through rigorous research, it is also becoming more available to children and families from all walks of life – indeed exciting times ahead for this field of practice and it remains a privilege to be involved in it”.  

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