ben Sellar

S02E05 Putting the Occupation in Occupational Therapy with Dr Ben Sellar

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In this episode Michael talks with Dr Ben Sellar, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of South Australia. Ben gives insights on the UniSA degree, the role of occupation and what that means in OT, play and development and the role of screen time for children growing up in a technological moment.

In this episode Michael talks with Dr Ben Sellar, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of South Australia. Ben gives insights on the UniSA degree, the role of occupation and what that means in OT, play and development and the role of screen time for children growing up in a technological moment. 

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We hope to have a Q+A episode in the future, so please send any questions you’d like discussed to podcast@otfc.com.au

Ben references some material in the discussion, with some links below:

Ian Bogost

https://bogost.com

Article: Risky Play and Children’s Safety (Brussoni et al., 2012)

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3499858/

Nature Deficit Disorder 

https://richardlouv.com/blog/what-is-nature-deficit-disorder/

[00:00:00] Michael: I am flying solo in the host seat today, but I’m joined by a guest who many consider as one of the next generation of theoretical academics within the occupational therapy department at Uni SA, Dr. Ben Sellar. Ben has been exploring primary healthcare, occupational science, and critical theory, and has contributed to research journals and texts on these topics.

[00:00:23] Michael: His quest for knowledge is unsurpassed and his ability to articulate his ideas in a manner that inspires others is a rare skill. Having completed his undergraduate degree in OT with honors at UniSA, he went on to complete his PhD at Macquarie University. As a lecturer at UniSA, Ben has been a key component of educating occupational therapy students on the role of occupation form function meaning, and the role of occupational science, both from a theoretical and practical perspective.

[00:00:54] Michael: Ben’s research has let him to explore how digital technologies shape what people do from a primary healthcare per. Using theoretical and sociological methods. Ben is exploring how children’s play is changing amidst new technologies and the associated concerns of parents health services and policy makers.

[00:01:13] Michael: Today he joins us to discuss a bit more about play, the OT degree itself, unpacking the theoretical side of occupation, and also a bit about his personal.

[00:01:25] Michael: Ben, thank you so much for joining us this morning. You are involved in, at the university in the, the big, what’s the PCP,

[00:01:33] Ben: which is Yep.

[00:01:34] Ben: Participatory community practice. So a large chunk of my role at the university is working with the third and fourth years. As they’re heading towards the end of their degree, they’re finalizing their studies and they’re doing their big final placements. So a lot of the, one of the main courses I teach, a lot of the listeners, I assume would be familiar with what your OT practice looks like.

[00:01:53] Ben: And, and I guess there’s a whole area of OT practice that we would call kind of clinical where you’re working one to one or with groups and you’re working with people who have specific needs and you’re working in a goal-oriented way. Delivering therapies and interventions. Another part of OT practice is to work at the level of communities.

[00:02:11] Ben: So a lot of the projects that I support students with, we run about 40, 50 a year with our undergrad students. We run about 12 to 15 with our postgrad students, and they are large scale year long projects that they work on with whole communities as their clients.

[00:02:29] Michael: What are some of the other components of the UniSA course, and I know now that there are in, in Adelaide, there are three universities now that Flinders and now Adelaide Uni also offer occupational therapies as a degree. What are some of the other key parts of the UniSA course that help provide this occupational therapist that that comes out of the end?

[00:02:49] Ben: So the university, the UniSA structure without, we have two programs. So you went through the, the Master’s program, which is two years and it’s really intensive. Mm-hmm. . And it’s for students who have already got a degree elsewhere and have met the prerequisites for some foundational things. Like they know about anatomy, they know about physiology, and then we come in and we teach the OT specific stuff for you.

[00:03:10] Ben: The bulk of our students come through the undergraduate program, which is four years, and in the first year we are really working on foundational stuff. That’s where you need to work out your anatomy, physiology, all of that sort of stuff. Neuroscience and understand health systems, health policies, health frameworks, all that sort of stuff.

[00:03:29] Ben: Most of our students do that with students from other programs, so they might be studying with speech pathologists, physiotherapists, human movement students, exercise and sports physi. And that interprofessional education is a really good way of them getting a bit of a sense of how their work fits in with other people’s work as well.

[00:03:45] Ben: As they move into second year, they get a lot more OT specific information, and that’s where we start translating that foundational knowledge, like knowing about the brain into how you rehabilitate a brain that has been affected by a stroke or a brain injury or something like that. We tend to work kind of across the program.

[00:04:04] Ben: We start off teaching them about working with individual clients, and then we can move up into kind of groups and then into communities, and then out into their final placement in fourth year. So the whole program is scaffolded so that they’re building on the previous work. It’s getting more complex, it’s getting more applied until by the end of it, they’re basically spend their fourth year out in the community doing three major placements.

[00:04:25] Ben: That’s their kind of transitional year. That then means when they go out and start looking for work. They’re already got a lot of experience under the belt, so they all have to do a thousand hours of field placement across the course. And a large chunk of that happens at the end when they’ve already got all their foundational knowledge consolidated.

[00:04:43] Michael: Applied science is, is exactly what it is. I think at the end of the, the degree, the, the. Nomenclature is Bachelor of Applied Science Occupational Therapy, and it is very applied. What, makes the the OT degree different? To say another degree because of that applied nature. How, how do you implement aspects of, for example, what, you teach some of that, the scientific background or the occupational science, how do you employ those into more of an applied OT degree?

[00:05:15] Ben: It’s a great question. We, we used to be applied science and then the name got changed, just a bachelor of OT. But we do treat, try and keep alive exactly what you said. Because that is absolutely the way we think about it. And, and I guess the way I’d say it is that if you’re a physiotherapist, you’re an applied science as well. And the science you’re largely applying is gonna come from the physical and, and neurosciences. When we are an occupational therapist, the sciences, we’re applying our occupational sciences.

[00:05:42] Ben: So they are knowledges and understandings of how people do things, why they do them, what they do, and why they’re important. We need to synthesize a lot of different knowledges to understand that because of course the reasons why people do things are gonna have a basis in sociology and psychology.

[00:05:59] Ben: They’re gonna, you know, the way people do things are gonna have a basis in culture and anthropology and human behavior. They’re gonna have a basis in sort of technological sciences as well. So there’s a whole pile of different knowledges that we need to. Bring into understanding what it is that shapes what we do and how we do it, and why we do it the way we do and how our lives change when we can or can’t do those things that are really important to us.

[00:06:24] Ben: And I guess that’s where I’m really interested in occupational therapy is thinking about how the way we do things changes over time and some of the assumptions we have and habits we form about the way we do things that maybe. Aren’t that relevant as times change or need to be rethought or critiqued or, or re understood or reinterpreted as we go along?

[00:06:45] Ben: So I always think technology. You know, very pertinent. I think when you’re talking about child development, there’s a lot of anxiety about technology and, you know the use of, you know, screen time and the use of technology in, in kids’ lives. And I think a lot of that is absolutely well founded, but it also needs to be balanced with an understanding of the fact that we are moving through a technological shift and our kids are gonna inherit that world.

[00:07:10] Ben: And so what does it take to prepare them for that? In a way that is as productive as possible. So, you know, those sorts of questions about how what we are doing is changing, are really relevant to very applied situations. Even though they might sometimes sound a bit esoteric and theoretical. ,

[00:07:28] Michael: You raise a good point about the, the role of technology and you know, I often mention that I think my, my son who’s almost two knows how to swipe on a phone well before, I think my first phone was about 15 or 16.

[00:07:40] Michael: So you’re absolutely right. And one thing I I often find is the conversation with parents around, around screen time and how much screen time can a child have and, and what does that look like? Have you done work in that field. Have you looked into that or is it more understanding what you mentioned about occupation and, and the role of technology in, in the change of occupation? Have you looked at, at the role of screen time itself?

[00:08:07] Ben: Not sort of the metrics of screen time? Yeah. There’s quite a bit of research obviously around, you know, how much is enough or too much. One of the things we have looked at a fair bit is around the role of gaming and video gaming with kids, and part of our interest in that I guess anytime, and I have this with my own son , we’ve got a 10 year old son. And, and, and in, in a lot of ways we are learning through him what video gaming means in, in the current world, you know, and it meant a very different thing for me to, what it means to him and. So we, we looked at video gaming for a while with a colleague of mine.

[00:08:39] Ben: And we were, we were looking at the fact that, you know, often when we talk about video gaming, and I think this is where theory is really important, so understanding what we think an occupation is, is really important. When we talk about video gaming, I think for a long time we had a view of video gaming being something that would happen alone in a basement, quite antisocial, often male dominated. And, and I guess often, and I think what’s we’ve seen is that if you look at the stats around who plays video games, It’s not young men. The average age is about 35. It’s very gender diverse in terms of who is doing it, and part of the reason for that is where video games get played and what platforms they’re on are so much more available.

[00:09:19] Ben: So you know, anyone who just kills time on the tram on the way to work in a survey would call themselves someone who plays video games, whereas in the past, you needed to buy a specific piece of hardware, have it plugged into the mains and sit and do it by yourself and those games were really hard, right?

[00:09:34] Ben: So video games were initially designed to extract as much money from you as possible, so they were really hard to keep you churn through the coins. Now you’ve got all of these, you know, variable difficulty levels and modifications that occur in games that are actually tending more towards addictive designs that keep you involved more, that create the new problem for us to think about.

[00:09:55] Ben: So one of the things we were really interested in with, with video gaming was the fact that there’s actually a lot of social benefit in a lot of video games, as long as the parameters are set for those in away that is productive for that young person or whoever’s doing it. And I kind of, one of the things I always think about with these things is, you know, and I talk about it with my son, we talk about how poison isn’t a substance, it’s a dosage.

[00:10:18] Ben: You know, anything you take in excess can be poisonous. And any poison you take under the poisonous dosage won’t be poisonous. So it’s about finding that right balance between the various things you’re doing in your day so that we don’t let one thing. Over dominate our capacities or take away the diversity of capacities we’ve got available to us.

[00:10:40] Michael: The balance, I think it’s an important point. I know that our director here, Dino, often talks about, for example, if you are gonna do an hour of screen time, try and do an hour of physical activity to really balance out the needs and the body needs both. And it allows that understanding that screen time is unavoidable.

[00:10:55] Michael: It is, it has become part of our, our society, as you said. And it’s one thing to hide away from it and one thing to embrace it and understand how to work with that more so, so interesting to to hear that. Some of that research certainly backs up that, that change. It’s

[00:11:09] Ben: Always a bit of a tricky thing, isn’t it, with the chicken and egg stuff around screen time.

[00:11:12] Ben: And, and I, I think for my own, you know, in my own experience with, with young people, I can see sometimes that those who have find social engagement difficult and draining, find a great relief in doing something on the screen. And it’s, you know, in, in the same way that we all veg out in front of stuff every now and again.

[00:11:28] Ben: And I guess for, you know, in what I do see, I think is for kids where that balance isn’t struck, where they’re not pushed through some of that challenge. In a way that is productive for them that they possibly don’t. You know, anything can atrophy, you know, muscles atrophy when you sit around and don’t do enough.

[00:11:47] Ben: And that’s why we want physical activity. And your social skills are a muscle. And if you don’t train ’em every now and again, They’re going to atrophy. And so you get, I guess into that bit of a, a vicious cycle where it gets harder and harder to do it. And so you wanna do it less and less, and then it becomes more of a fight to push through and do it, and then all of a sudden, you know, you’re not wanting to go to a birthday party or not wanting to leave the house or whatever it might be.

[00:12:08] Ben: And so I think it’s, for me as a parent, I’ll speak just as a parent. It is about just tuning in and, and keeping that conversation alive with that, with children about what are the risks we are all vulnerable to in our contemporary. Because we all are, and, and I mean, you know, I, I take the tram to work every day and, you know, I, I know that what I say to my son and the way he sees me live, as well as, you know, my, my co-parent, you know, my partner is very influential on him.

[00:12:39] Ben: Probably not as influential as what his friends are doing, right? And there’s research to show that they’re about 95% more influential than parents. But also when he hops on the tram to go to school every day, almost every commuter is on their phone. And so what he’s seeing in the world is that they’re, that this is the way adults do things.

[00:12:56] Ben: Now, you know, that doesn’t mean that adults need to change their behavior, but it does mean when we are parenting our kids and getting them to think about screen time, we need to do that in the context that no matter what we. People often say, ‘do as I say, not as I do’. And, and what is being done is a lot of phone screen time in front of these kids.

[00:13:14] Ben: So we have a bit of a conversation, an ongoing conversation about the risks that we’re all vulnerable to with screen time. And one of the risks we’ll talk about is, you know, that you start to find it more fun and exciting to be on the. Maybe in a passive way where you are receiving information or you are getting delivered stimulation and entertainment rather than needing to use the screen as a tool to create or express.

[00:13:40] Ben: And I think that’s an important difference too. You can, you know, I can sit and veg on the screen, or I can sit and be incredibly creative and incredibly expressive on the screen. Or I can sit and be incredibly social on the screen. And I guess the question always for me is, what does the screen afford in terms of developmental opportunities, in terms of exposure to the world and that it doesn’t just become one.

[00:14:03] Ben: So I think that’s one thing I’d think about as well is the balance of usage, not only the balance of time.

[00:14:08] Michael: We were just talking before about the role of technology and how that has changed. And you mentioned that for your, for your son, Other people on the, on the tram seeing technology, and that’s how adults engage in their world. One thing I’ve often thought about is, is, is play itself and, and screen time and technology is play.

[00:14:28] Michael: I often refer to parents the fact that, I mean, I grew up and played video games and often they were quite social. So friends would get together and we’d, you know, join Xboxes together or whatever it is, and, and we’d have eight friends in a, in a space and when we’d play games socially the online world has obviously changed that a little bit, but there is still a form of, of interaction, I guess from what you understand.

[00:14:49] Michael: And, and theoretically how has the role of digital technology changed what play looks like? Not just for for children, but as, as we go through the lifespan?

[00:14:57] Ben: Mm, yeah. I, I’m, I’m in a similar boat to you, Michael. I grew up playing unnetworked video games. Yeah. And if we wanted to link up with people, we needed to bring the computer around, plug it in, type in IP addresses, and fiddle around.

[00:15:11] Ben: And it’s an interesting example because I think, you know, without the convenience of connectivity that we have now, it produces a whole other level of stuff you have to work out. To make happen what you wanna make happen. And I, I do think in terms of digital technology, I think that the convenience with which everything does and is expected to happen can sometimes get in the way of some kind of creative solutions in the world that kids might otherwise have to cook up.

[00:15:38] Ben: And you know, . So I think sometimes, you know, I real, I’m a big fan of boredom and inconvenience as provocations to play and creativity. And I think that’s a, a disposition that’s good to grow in kids. That when you’re bored, find something to do it’s not very easy for everyone. So I’m not suggesting that’s a kind of a one stop shop, silver bullet.

[00:15:56] Ben: The other thing I’d say though around, around technology and how it’s affected play is I think we’re in a very early stage of understanding. And sometimes what we’ll talk about with students around around this when we’re working with them in, in theoretical spaces is, let’s, let’s think about, if you go back to the era where fire was starting to get controlled by humans, you know, and it’s no, all of a sudden you’ve got people making a pitch for bringing fire inside the cave, keeping us warm, cooking our food.

[00:16:22] Ben: Retrospectively, we look back at that as a great achievement. But at the time, it’s reasonable to think that could have been perceived as a significant threat. This is the thing that threatens our survival. It threatens our habitat where it’s out of control, it’s problematic. And yet when we look back on it, we go, well, if it wasn’t for that, we wouldn’t have everything we’ve got now.

[00:16:40] Ben: Now, I’m not suggesting that therefore you just except any new technological innovation uncritically. But we do. I think it does pay sometimes to be aware that we are in a technological moment where things are changing really quickly. We don’t really have any longitudinal data to work out whether it’s a good or a bad change or how to modulate that change in a more or less productive way.

[00:17:02] Ben: And so I think when it comes to play, I certainly see young people, particularly when it comes to online social gaming, they are getting skills in a social world that I have no skills. I’m really not very good at online social engagement. So I think that’s definitely changed the, the way young people socialize.

[00:17:25] Ben: I mean, personally with, with our son, we have a screen time limit at home and we say to him, so that just counts for, you know, YouTube and playing on the PC and whatever. But we say to him, if you can organize some mates to come around and play the Nintendo on the couch, that doesn’t count.

[00:17:41] Ben: You know, that’s not screen time. Yeah. You’ve put it together and part of that is knowing. to make that happen requires him to do some planning, some organizations, some scheduling. When they rock up, he has to kind of host them. You know, they have to sort of sit and organize space together. They have to solve problems together.

[00:17:55] Ben: And all of a sudden, as soon as someone gets bored, they’ll be out the back on the trampoline. So, That’s another way it’s changed, I think, is that, you know, it does serve as a kind of a, as an attractor, it’s pretty desirable screen time for a lot of people. And if you can make that a social occasion, then it can also create conditions for opportunities for non-screen time stuff to happen or non-digital play to happen.

[00:18:18] Michael: The introduction of, of technology, as you said, and we’ve mentioned a bit has obviously changed play. Playful parenting if, if you are a parent, and you can speak from a theoretical perspective or from a parent’s perspective. How do you encourage parents to be more playful and what does, what does a playful parent look like to you?

[00:18:40] Ben: And Yeah, it’s a great question and certainly a colleague of mine, Shelly Wright, does a lot of work on playful parenting with colleagues and a few others from other parts of Australia. So they’re really good people to look at in terms of the, the really hard and fast research, I guess, when it comes to, to playfulness.

[00:18:55] Ben: And I won’t speak to, to their research cuz it’s quite specific, but there is someone who’s who I find a very helpful theorist in this area. A guy called Ian Bogost at MIT and he does a lot of work in video games and he’s a video game designer and he’s a, a researcher in video games. And one of the things he talks about with, he has a book called Play Anything.

[00:19:17] Ben: You know, one of the arguments there, I guess it’s in the title, is that anything or anyone can be playful. It depends on how we think about what play is, and I think one of the biggest traps is that if we think that play is a set of kind of prescriptive technical behaviors, you know, like building a sandcastle or playing with blocks, then.

[00:19:39] Ben: It’s understandable that only some people are gonna be playful cuz they’re not exciting to everyone, right? What, what Ian Bogost talks about is he talks about play being, about finding the wiggle room or the play in a system, right? So whenever you are in a situation or you’re in a, you know, you are, you are using a piece of equipment or you are relating to someone, there’s often little moments of slippage.

[00:20:02] Ben: So someone might say, so, They use quite, you know, a different word and all of a sudden a little opportunity for a pun comes up. Mm-hmm. , well that’s a little playful opportunity, right? Oh, they’ve said something not quite right. I can kind of create a double meaning there that keeps the conversation going.

[00:20:15] Ben: But we also have a laugh. An example he gives is walking through the shops and, you know, he’s in a real hurry. He’s gotta get home. He’s got, you know, 15 things in his day that he’s planning ahead and he’s annoyed cuz his daughter is lagging behind. But she’s found that the tiles are spaced in such a way that she can create a little game with how she moves through.

[00:20:34] Ben: And so he saw, he talks about, you know how he meets that with frustration, but what it means is he’s lost the capacity through his lack of head space in the moment, to find the opportunity to be at play with the parameters that he’s got around him in his life. So I’ve gotta be there at a certain time, but there are also these lines.

[00:20:53] Ben: Can we use these to kind of get our bodies moving in a way that is fun and gets us laughing? I kind of think about play that way. That play is about finding that little gap, slippage opportunity to and play around with that, right? And we see it in a range of different ways, like with sports, you know, or even, even in work.

[00:21:17] Ben: Work can be play. Obviously your work often looks quite playful cuz you’re using play as a therapeutic medium, right? Absolutely. Yeah. But you know, I can imagine for people sitting around a boardroom trying to work out how to play the game of corporate finance has a playful element to it. If it was all just predefined and a system you have to roll out, then the, the room for strategy and kind of finding that those gaps and opportunities wouldn’t be there, and I can understand why that’s exciting for people or adults playing sport.

[00:21:47] Ben: I know as a kid I used to play sport and I used to play cricket, and I realistically, I played each ball as one ball. Here comes the ball, don’t get out, hit it somewhere and get some runs. It’s only as I got older that I realized I should have been playing the biggest scale game. If I play this ball that way, he might then bowl the ball to me in a different spot next time.

[00:22:09] Ben: And that’s where I want it. And that’s where I’ll then get the run, right? And then, you know, if I do that this game, then next game when we play them, they’re gonna be a bit more intimidated by me and they might take a different approach that works for me better or worse or whatever. And so you can sort of think about these systems as different scales right in the moment, but also, you know, across an hour, two hours a day, a week, whatever.

[00:22:32] Ben: And so I think when it comes to being playful, then coming back to your actual question, this is as a parent, I think, and I can speak I guess to this a little bit more in terms of what we know about parental mental health, that there’s a lot of things that affect parents’ mental health or even just head space.

[00:22:47] Ben: And I think one thing that can be really helpful when it comes to being play is having some dedicated time to free up your head space to notice where those opportunities for a little moment might be. And some of the people will probably be familiar with those ideas that, you know, 20 minutes of really good quality time a day is really good going , right? That could be make a huge difference if in that time you are sensitizing yourself to the opportunities around. To not be frustrated by something that’s taking, you know, kids doing up their laces and you think, come on, get a wriggle on? But they’re singing a song to themselves about the rabbit going around the tree.

[00:23:24] Ben: Maybe sing it with ’em, you know, or you know you know, finding those opportunities to kind of join in with, rather than needing to drive play. I, I think is probably something I’ve noticed a little bit through, through the research, but also through, obviously, like you said, my own parenting as well.

[00:23:40] Michael: I know that you mentioned, you know, obviously our therapy is, looks very playful and it is you know, our, our SI framework has very strong fidelity measures that. Ensure that plays is a key part of, of, of therapy and also that that just right challenge or finding that that flow, you know, like a Csikszentmihalyi sort of theoretical framework there.

[00:23:59] Michael: And so important that particularly well to be honest, any age, but particularly for the younger clients, that parents are able to see that and they’re able to be in the space and see what the therapy looks like. And we often talk. Parents saying, oh, that just looks like play and you’re just having fun.

[00:24:15] Michael: And that is exactly what our therapy should look like if it’s done well and I think what I’m hearing from you then is if a parent can see something like that or, or can find some gold in what they’re seeing and then transfer that to something they can do at home, if it’s 20 minutes. 10 minutes, what, whatever it is, then that child gets that connection and it’s meaningful and it’s playful, and that parent’s confidence increases that I, I’m getting my child, I’m, I’m, I’m having that time with my child and, and hey, the therapy’s working because I’m seeing what’s going on and the child’s liking it and we’re working together.

[00:24:48] Michael: And very much a family centered approach and you know, we have values here at our organization, and one of them is play. Play is one of our core values. And so what we’re thinking about it all the time. Now the difference with, with obviously with our play, and we talked a bit about technology before, but the difference with our play is that it’s quite physical and active.

[00:25:04] Michael: Earlier you did make a point about how the, you know, the, the Enid Blyton and sort of playing outside and the long grasses and the climbing trees. And that approach how that looks different now. But one thing anecdotally and from some of those in, in, in research in pediatrics have explained is that there is a, a, a slight shift by what we can see in terms of kids not being as, Physically active is actually changing some of their developmental skills.

[00:25:34] Michael: And some of the sensory motor skills that we see and we assess at our practice. There, there is a shift that some of those aren’t being as well developed. I don’t know if that’s something that you’re aware of, if you’ve come across any research in that regard or if that’s even something anecdotally you’ve seen with, with other kids or through research done through the university.

[00:25:53] Ben: Look, it is some work we’ve done and, and, and various people have called it things like Risk Deficit Disorder, Nature Deficit Disorder. And it’s, it’s certainly I think it’s certainly evident in the research that there. There is an issue. I think it comes from multiple places so that the literature, obviously, we were talking about digital technology before and certainly, you know, the note, the state of our digital technology at the moment often makes people non-moving and sedentary, which leads to it.

[00:26:24] Ben: One question will be when things like VR are integrated into glasses and you can run through the streets with your VR system. Maybe that problem won’t be as as big. You might still have others, but you know. But the other thing that’s happened, there’s been the research shows really clearly that other things that, that lead to some of these challenges are things like changes in town planning and urban planning.

[00:26:45] Ben: So increased housing density where people don’t have big enough backyards. The lack of green space in urban planning and council planning decisions, meaning that young people might not have a kind of park at the end of the street that it’s safe to go to without parents. So you know, going to a park becomes a parent led activity.

[00:27:04] Ben: You can only do it when mum, you know, your caregivers are available. Yeah. And then also when you get there, they’re there. Now my experience as a kid growing up, and this is often reflected cuz you know, when I was saying it’s a very middle class western European childhood that nature play sort of borrows from, well, that’s what I had, right?

[00:27:20] Ben: So I look at that and I go, yeah, well that makes sense to me. You know, we’d go to these places and you’d stuff around. With no parents around. And there was no one to kind of regulate your behavior or correct your behavior or intervene if people started getting outta control or, and you had to sort it out yourselves.

[00:27:36] Ben: And so those, the opportunity for that kind of experience is also getting diminished. The other thing there, there’s some research to suggest and people might have seen things like bubble wrapped generation or kind of cotton wool kids. You know, these ideas that kids aren’t growing up with sufficient resilience to the world.

[00:27:52] Ben: That, the argument there is that, you know, you’ve got parents who are highly invested in their children and highly invested in their development and don’t want bad things to happen to them. Again, really virtuous disposition. But the challenge it can create is they don’t have the experience of, you know, the, the logic here as if you don’t fall and pick yourself up, you think you should never fall.

[00:28:11] Ben: Right? And sometimes what you see in the, in the literature and in the discourse is, you know, we’ve got these cotton wall kids just let ’em go and it’s this sort of all or nothing. What we also have in the media is a lot more awareness and understanding of kind of predatory risks, you know, around child abuse.

[00:28:27] Ben: A lot of stuff that we, people weren’t aware of historically, that is now becoming more conscious. And so some of that risk concern about kids being unsupervised, you can really understand from a parent’s point of view. So it’s a very complex world in which to raise a young person. To have the same levels of risk and resilience that were brought up.

[00:28:47] Ben: You know, that was created when conditions were very different historically. Even just the idea things like adventure playgrounds. I mean, they were an invention of the seventies and the eighties, and they were born of post-war rubble, you know, so kids were growing up in Europe after the bombings had happened, playing in the rubble, and then people decided, well, let’s create under determined play spaces for kids where they can imagine what they.

[00:29:10] Ben: And I think that’s, that’s I, so and so I don’t, absolutely don’t disagree with the research around the sensory motor challenges that kids have, the importance of gross motor, the importance of getting out. One of the things when you look at Nature Play in particular that we’ve looked at through some of our work is Is it the nature that’s doing the work, or is it the affordances that nature gives?

[00:29:29] Ben: And by affordances I mean opportunities for action. So if I go to a natural space, so if I go to what we call a KFC playground, so kit, fence and carpet. It’s usually quite prescriptive and it might even have instructions. Do not climb up the slide. Right. Well, that’s not really very playful. It’s, it’s good at stopping kids, breaking their arms, but you know.

[00:29:49] Ben: There’s a lot of research to suggest that breaking your arm isn’t the end of the world either, right. Obviously what they’re trying to prevent in those playgrounds is head and neck injuries. Yeah, and And that’s something we’ve looked at a fair bit, looking at Australian safety standards around play.

[00:30:01] Ben: When you go to a natural playground, there aren’t those same, same parameters. Right. So now I have to be careful here cuz nature play playgrounds still have to conform to those standards. Yes. They’re usually just made of natural materials. So I’m gonna contrast it more with like going down to the creek.

[00:30:15] Michael: Yeah, or going to Woodhouse, which we just came back from camp and we spent a lot of time there. So this is ringing true to me. So yeah, continue.

[00:30:21] Ben: So when you go to Woodhouse and that, you know you’ve got a big tree you can climb and there’s no instructions.

[00:30:26] Ben: And, and it’s not necessarily set up to be easy for you to climb. So when you go to a KFC playground, the ladders are designed. For kids who are, you know, two to 12, specifically with anthropomorphic data. When you find a tree, some kids can get it up at, some kids can’t and it self-regulate who gets up there.

[00:30:42] Ben: And what also happens is one day you go down there and a branch has fallen and you’ve got this branch to play with. The next day that’s gone cuz another kid’s taken it somewhere and then a month later you go down there and it’s saturated and there’s mud everywhere. So it’s variable and it’s dynamic and it’s under determined so it doesn’t tell you what to do.

[00:31:01] Ben: and I think those are parameters that support, play and playfulness anywhere you go, whether it’s nature or whether it’s, you know, sort of synthesized materials. So the example I’d give is when you give kids a really developmentally tuned toy, you know, this kind of fisher price, you know, press this button, turn that knob slide, that slider, and it’s sort of developing fine motor skills.

[00:31:26] Ben: Now it’s gonna do that, but it’s it’s not rare to find that the kid gets that present and plays with the box or the bubble wrap. And it’s the same principle. The box can be anything. It’s loud, it’s rippable, it’s throw ball, it’s scrunch up ball, it’s high in a ball. You can do all this stuff with the box.

[00:31:46] Ben: Whereas the toy is more prescriptive. It’s one thing to do with it, and as soon as you’re not doing that, it’s not. And I think that’s sort of another thing to think about play. And just coming back to your initial question, Michael, I’m doing some big tangents. That’s okay but those issues around sensory motor opportunities, I think and, and that kind of gross play and why it’s so important to, as you do help kids to get exposed to that and build skills and capacities there is because the opportunities for it are reducing from multiple angle.

[00:32:16] Ben: Urban design, state of our current technology, risk management, changes in housing and architecture, and changes in parent culture and all. When you put all of those things together, it’s pretty hard for kids to get exposed to an opportunity to do some of that stuff. And paradoxically, for parents, they’re often in a fine line where they’ll get told off if they’re helicopter parents, and they’ll get told off if they’re under supervising kids and finding. Middle ground is really difficult.

[00:32:52] Michael: Earlier you were talking and actually throughout, you’ve talked about this, this word affordances and you gave, you gave some context to a bit of meaning and. It comes from occupational science. And for those that don’t know, listeners that might not be aware of it what is occupational science?

[00:33:06] Michael: What, what does it do for occupational therapy? And how important is that occupational science from a. A theoretical perspective for young OTs that are going through uni to then understand that concept for when they’re practicing.

[00:33:20] Ben: Yep. Yeah. Well you’ll need to reign me in possibly here, Michael, cause I could talk about occupational science forever. I know.

[00:33:26] Michael: That’s why I thought I’d ask you. Yeah. Cuz if, if I didn’t ask you while you are here, it would be a massive oversight on my behalf. But it’s an important concept. Yeah. I, I personally, and I think it forms such a key part of. We do as OTs. So why not ask someone who’s an expert in that area?

[00:33:42] Ben: Yeah, so occupational science as I said earlier, We are an applied science, so we apply a series of sciences and we synthesize those sciences into an applied practice. And occupational science is sort of the filter through which the base sciences get drawn. So if we know about the brain and we know about sociology and we know about the body, then how do we bring that together into a sophisticated understanding of what people.

[00:34:08] Ben: Why they do it and how they do it. And that’s really the role occupational science is, is aiming to serve if occupation is the, the means and the end. So it’s how we deliver our intervention and it’s the outcomes of our intervention. People doing things they want to do more capably and producing happier, healthier lives then.

[00:34:25] Ben: We need to know about occupation really, really well from multiple perspectives, and that’s the job of occupational science. So it’s a discipline of knowledge that is designed to underpin what we apply in our practice. It’s relatively new as a discipline. So realistically, it only really kind of came into fruition as a, as a concrete thing 40 years ago.

[00:34:47] Ben: It was, UniSA was heavily involved in the development of occupational science as well as University of California and the Auckland University of Technology. So and it spread through then is now international Occ Science conferences going on. One of the things that I think is so important, About occupational science is that as occupational therapists, we, and particularly for new graduates, they are going to enter a practice world that is defined by the time.

[00:35:10] Ben: So the assessments they use, the therapies they use, the interventions they use are gonna be based on the evidence of the time. But they’re gonna be practitioners for maybe 50 years, 60 years, and the way people do things is going to change radically in that. And so while it’s really important to have an understanding and a really good competence, you know, and capability in all of the technical.

[00:35:34] Ben: Procedures that you use as a therapist. It’s also really important to have an understanding of the more basic principles of what people do, why and how so that as times change, you can shift your therapeutic practice to remain contemporary. And Occ science, I think, provides that more fundamental, basic understanding of what we’re doing when we say we’re dressing or we’re playing or we’re working.

[00:35:58] Ben: Or we’re having leisure time so that in different cultural contexts, in different times, in different places, we can adapt our therapy to be responsive to what we’re in and not be locked into a kind of prescriptive technical practice. So in Occ Science, we teach students about theories of culture. We teach them about psychological theories, like you said, Flow, how that might use in applied in an applied way.

[00:36:22] Ben: We talk about theories of identity and how that relates to what people are doing. We talk about human evolution and how that kind of predisposes people to certain types of occupation or certain things they might do, but equally, how it’s a continual process and so, you know, it’s still unfolding. So we talk about quite grand, big ideas and then bring them back to how that might relate to your practice now and into the future.

[00:36:47] Michael: Occupational therapy quite applied. Someone like yourself who does have a very strong passion, obviously for the theoretical perspective, but bringing it to a, a practical and applied nature. You, am I correct you stayed within the academic university field and chose not to go down the clinical path?

[00:37:11] Michael: Was that because of how much of a draw you had to the theoretical nature and how you wanted to teach others about the importance of it or was. A, I saw a bit of the clinical world in placement and it was not for me. Can you explain a bit about that?

[00:37:24] Ben: A great question. I dunno that I am always totally clear about it either, right?

[00:37:27] Ben: We end up where we end up through, through complex paths. But certainly I always, while I was studying, I had the good fortune of doing an honors research project and I, and I loved that. I really loved, I started out with a very applied project and then realized that there were tons of questions to ask.

[00:37:43] Ben: It took me all the way back to some basic theories and that theoretical space I find very play. It’s a fun space to be. I love thinking about ideas. I love finding stuff out that, that troubles my own way of thinking. So looking into history or looking into different ways of understanding a problem or proposing a solution.

[00:38:02] Ben: And so that is a space that I find really comfortable. I think also one of the reasons that university works attractive is I do like teaching. And so, you know, clinically when I was working and I didn’t do a lot of clinical work, I did some, but mainly it was with kids. The teaching that I do now, not that I’m working with children, but it has, I guess I have a similar philosophy to it in terms of, you know, you’re trying to provide conditions for people to thrive and then do something that you couldn’t predict they would do.

[00:38:30] Ben: And I think that’s always really exciting whether you’re doing it clinically with clients and you’re kind of, kind of trying to create the conditions for this young person to go off and live a life. Has more opportunities in it and where they are changing the world in ways you couldn’t predict, but in ways you’ve contributed to is really exciting.

[00:38:51] Ben: Really rewarding and, and I found that teaching at Uni gave me that. So sort of with both of those things, being able to, being, having time at work to think and read and research is a real privilege. And then having the opportunity to work with students, and we have great students. We’re very privileged to have very proactive, motivated, engaged students who want to think and want to do that work and then go off and do stuff.

[00:39:15] Ben: You can’t, you know, you can’t imagine. And like, I mean, we’re doing it right now. Right. You know, all of a sudden here we are having yak on a podcast. You’ve set up as part of your practice and it’s thrilling. You know, yeah. So, so, so that’s sort of I guess my one reason I was attracted to it, and, and I do think also I think I’m in a lot of ways I would say, and maybe it’s just because I’ve done it more, but I think I’m actually possibly a better educator than I am a clinician.

[00:39:39] Ben: So it’s actually just a better place for me to be. And, and one of the things, you know, I think all of us are trying to, well, no, that’s not true. I am always thinking about, well, what’s the contribution I wanna make to the world and where’s the best place for me to be to make it? And I feel like that’s the, at the University.

[00:39:53] Michael: What got you into OT in the first place then? I mean obviously it is quite, if we go back to that then it’s quite an applied science. You have a very theoretical and you know, a very creative, playful mind and like to draw that and use that in, in the theory side of things. How did you get drawn to occupational therapy then?

[00:40:11] Ben: I always really liked science. Biology and anatomy and all that sort of stuff. But I was also you know, really drawn to kind of caring roles. I got brought up in a very connected family and really you. Saw myself and, and sort of saw myself having skills in sort of helping people. Now, you know, that can be problematic as well, you know, helping, helping, but, you know, being caring and empathetic.

[00:40:37] Ben: And so I initially saw myself as being a doctor or a physiotherapist, but then I had a friend who was doing occupational therapy and, and he kind of helped me understand how in ot, , you get to do all of that physical knowledge stuff, you know? There’s plenty of people who are really specialized as OTs in all of that really hard science stuff, and, and I use hard advisedly, but I mean, at the time the science of that was very well established.

[00:41:01] Ben: But that you also get to do that psychosocial work and you get to work with people in ways that are relevant to them. So playing with the kids when you’ve got a kid. I just thought, well, that just makes so much sense. And so that balance of, of the kind of the body, the mind, the social and institutional context and the focus on people doing stuff rather than doing stuff to them drew me to it straight away.

[00:41:27] Ben: And I guess the reason why I now find myself thinking more about things like systems, theories, policies is because You know, obviously it’s an area I’m interested in, but I think a lot of our lives are governed by stuff that we might not be conscious of or that we might be conscious of or feel we can’t change.

[00:41:46] Ben: So I think the N D I S is a great example of that. It’s a really significant policy change, huge amounts of government money. It’s working really well for some people as the, the latest report by Dylan Alcott’s Group has, has suggested. But if you look at the, the Tune report from 2019. They showed that there’s also large groups of people for whom it’s not working very well.

[00:42:06] Ben: And so, you know, we could have a really great set of OTs ready to work with people, but if they can’t access the N D I S, then they’re never going to access those therapies. And so you know, while, while our individual clinical work is crucial to people’s lives, I think it’s also important to have OTs reshaping the way we think about what disability might be, what it looks like in people’s lives, and therefore, what, what is reasonable and necessary for people?

[00:42:33] Michael: Obviously our center here and OTFC follows quite a strong sensory integration theory and framework. And there are lots of different approaches to, to pediatric therapy. We just apply that one. But how is the university. Examining all the different approaches of, of pediatrics and, and what is some of the, the, the most current work and is it a situation, cause I know that at times SI and universities, particularly within Australia, have had quite a jarring relationship.

[00:43:04] Michael: Is it, is it that the, the difficulty with knowing what the theory and practice of SI is like? Or is it that there’s other, the. From and other ways of doing pediatrics that, that have made that relationship harder. I know you are not in pediatrics per se, I know you can’t comment too much. But from your perspective being in the university how do you find academia taking on something like for example, a century integration framework and, and the challenges that, that have had?

[00:43:33] Ben: Yeah, I think, look, there’s a long and a short answer Yeah. To this, I think. And so I’ll start with the, the, the nuts and bolts and then move back if that’s easiest. But I think certainly the university, and I can’t speak to all universities across Australia or the history of those relationships, but I know certainly for UniSA, there’s no explicit resistance to something like SI. And, and in fact, you know, really any, any intervention that is used by OTs that is, you know, within the scope of practice and does no harm. We’re, we’re really a, you know, a approach with with, you know, we welcome and I think the ways we do engage with SI would probably be mostly through the way we support students to understand body systems, right?

[00:44:14] Ben: And sensory systems also you know, you. You know, we do a lot of placements with students. Absolutely. Student get to, to come on site and, and see how SI works. And and I think Dino spoke at the, the conference last year, so, you know, we are really certainly not Anti SI. I’d say it’s more a, a about a couple of things.

[00:44:32] Ben: One is historically SI has been quite a specialized way of doing practice and has required quite significant post-graduate training. So within an undergraduate course or even, you know, a two year intensified course. Always feasible to do enough of it that students come out certified. Right. And so it’s hard to replace like a, a really expert post-graduate training with something integrated into an undergraduate program.

[00:45:01] Ben: The other challenge we have is, and, and, and I think this happens in any educational institution, is you always have a, a crowded curriculum. There’s always more you could teach, right? And in OT, one of the challenges OT has as a, as a, as a profession is we work in so many different places in so many different ways.

[00:45:19] Ben: And there that puts pressure on us as a program then to make sure we prepare new graduates to enter into any of those areas capable and confident. So, I don’t think there’s necessarily a, a resistance to SI specifically, but also we don’t really teach. And coming back to that point about an accredited, certified program, yeah.

[00:45:41] Ben: We don’t necessarily teach any OT intervention to the level that you might get taught it at a postgraduate certified level. What we do focus on, and it’s a, I guess it’s driven by our accreditation requirements and competencies and things like that. The clinical reasoning process that students need to go through.

[00:45:59] Ben: So as a clinician, the, the first thing that’s really important is to sit down with a client, listen and understand what’s going on. We have, we have our occupational performance process model that we work through. SI will fit in as an intervention strategy, obviously because it’s an intervention strategy, it’s also a framework for thinking, so it’s gonna inform your initial assessments as well.

[00:46:23] Ben: But we are really focused on teaching students to apply that really rigorously wherever they go with a view that then if they come onto placement with you, for example, or if they start here as a new graduate, they can integrate the frameworks, the specific assessments, the specific interventions into that broader framework.

[00:46:42] Ben: One of the big risks we need to avoid with our education is, and there’s pressures on us to do this from a lot of places, is that students become technicians without understanding why they’re doing what they’re doing or how to change it if it’s not working, or how to develop new ways of practicing and grow the profession and grow outcomes for clients.

[00:47:05] Ben: And so that focus on the sort of more fundamental clinical reasoning process into which specific frameworks and assessments and interventions can be plugged is sort of where we start. And then we get as far through those other specific intervention styles as we can. Does that make sense? It’s a bit of a bit of a admin kind of answer.

[00:47:25] Michael: No, no, it’s, it’s, it’s a realistic answer. I think. I, I guess we have always found that SI that we, we see it as one of the most comprehensive ways of assessing and working with, with, with children. But that’s, that’s going off of a tangent

[00:47:40] Ben: No, I think it’s a really good point because I, I think You know, historically, I think there’s been some concerns about the evidence base for a si, but that’s growing, you know, and, and there’s a lot of research getting done in that area.

[00:47:50] Ben: And I think, you know, that, that like you said SI is an approach you take and you are able to take that in a way that is really inclusive and holistic of, of a whole pile of stuff for, for young people. And I think that’s why I was sort of saying like, it’s not, I don’t think universities, well, certainly not our university is sort of anti and intervention.

[00:48:10] Ben: It’s just that there’s limits to how much of it we can get through within the curriculum and you know, I think any university’s gonna have certain specializations. Based on the, the history of work they’ve done in the past and the, the faculty they’ve got. And so we might see that change into the future.

[00:48:23] Michael: I have a few more playful questions but again, I like to ask all guests that, come on. This one’s a bit of a throwback to childhood days. Do you have a favorite toy figurine or game that you had as a, as a child? You have fond memories of.

[00:48:37] Ben: I have complex memories of one figurine. I was hugely into teenage mutant Ninja Turtles as a kid. I managed to, at that point, it was really difficult to get hold of the figurines. They were so in demand. There must have been an international shortage in supply and you’d have to order with Toy World Advanced to get it right. And I finally got my Leonardo figurine and I was stoked.

[00:48:57] Ben: You know, I was so happy with it. And but one of the things I loved to do was make parachutes for my figurines and his didn’t open when I threw him off the shed. And I watched him splinter into a thousand pieces of. And I put him back together, but it was never quite the same. Oh. Didn’t have that kind of fresh outta the plastic wrap feel.

[00:49:14] Ben: So Leonardo was my favorite figure until I busted him on the driveway.

[00:49:19] Michael: You didn’t, you didn’t try a bit of a trial and error thing before you did the final?

[00:49:23] Ben: I think I had too much gusto. Yeah. Yeah. I think I took a risk, you know, .

[00:49:27] Michael: That’s alright. As you said, you know, sometimes you break your arm and it’s not the worst thing in the world.

[00:49:31] Ben: That’s right. I broke his instead ,

[00:49:32] Michael: TV show. I know it sound like you were outdoors quite a bit and, and playing with figurines and stuff, but did you have a favorite TV show when you were a child?

[00:49:39] Ben: When I was a child we used, well, I mean, I had a few. We, I grew up in Queensland, so we used to watch it’s a knockout, which was amazing, I just thought was so incredible.

[00:49:49] Ben: Whole stadium full of people doing crazy games with each other. But then, you know, growing up as a, as a kid, you know, I loved the Simpson. That was my go-to, and we recorded them every week and we watched them 15 times in a week and we learned all the scripts off, off by heart. And I could still quote half them to you.

[00:50:04] Michael: I won’t, I won’t do it now, but I’m sure we could. First seasons one to 10, I’m sure we could reel off a whole, a whole range of the lines from there. Yes. That’s a classic. Would you rather see the future or go back in time?

[00:50:17] Ben: Definitely the future. I really like science fiction.

[00:50:21] Ben: And, and I guess like I was saying before, I’m, you know, I think it’s always important to look at our present in the context of the past and the future. The past is a bit more knowable. The future feels a bit more. Like I’m gonna see something I never thought I’d see. Yeah. And I always find that exciting.

[00:50:36] Michael: It’s always I ask it cuz it’s a very polarizing question. You never get, well, maybe this or that. And people always have a very Yep. Straightaway, this is what I prefer.

[00:50:47] Michael: If it’s okay, I’m just gonna do a rapid fire Arnott’s quiz. All right.

[00:50:50] Michael: So can you name all five of the biscuits in Arnott’s assorted creams?

[00:50:55] Ben: Assorted cream. There’s a Monte Carlo . There’s a Kingston . There’s an orange cream or something, there’s a, there’s a chocolate one with a white in the middle, like an Oreo old school Oreo type thing. I dunno what it’s called. A chocolate cream maybe. Or a Delta Cream and then there’s, oh, and then there’s the other one, the, the rectangular one. That’s a very short crust kind of pastry with white cream in the middle. I’ll take it short.

[00:51:16] Michael: Shortbread Cream. There you go. Well done. I’ll give you five outta one. I think it’s our staple here.

[00:51:19] Michael: And for some reason, and this could be controversial, orange cream goes well before the shortbread. Anyway. There are some people that orange in their biscuits and chocolates and, good, good. You know, I’m not gonna yuck someone else’s. Yum. That’s absolutely up to them. Good way to put it. There you go.

[00:51:35] Michael: That’s useful information for your day,

[00:51:37] Michael: Anyway we will finish up there. But Ben, I really appreciate you coming on and giving your insight about play, about ox science and just nice to, nice to have a chat on the Friday afternoon.

[00:51:48] Ben: Yeah, it’s lovely to meet with you again, Michael. Always a pleasure to have a chat and yeah. Yeah. Hope it’s interesting to someone out there, .

[00:51:54] Michael: I’m sure it will be. Thank you.

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