Exploring Autonomy and Physical Well-being: Katelyn Grealish's Impactful Capstone Project at VCU

Going on a walk with The Faison Residence residents around Byrd park lakeConnecting with communities is an integral part of the Occupational Therapy program at VCU, and each year more and more students find new ways to engage with the greater Richmond area.

Kateyln Grealish’s capstone project left a lasting mark on both her academic journey and the lives of those she touched. Grealish’s project began when she was presented with the opportunity to collaborate with The Faison Residence, a semi-independent living facility for individuals with ASD and other developmental disabilities.

 “At The Faison Residence, a focus is placed on the residents’ transition into an autonomous lifestyle while developing life skills. It was the perfect place to put to practical use the education I’ve received in the Occupational  Therapy program at VCU,” said Grealish.

Recognizing the potential for positive change, she undertook a comprehensive needs assessment and identified a crucial gap at Faison: a lack of physical activity and engagement for the residents.

Grealish developed a program designed to increase the daily physical activity of The Faison Residence’s community members, while also working to identify the activities they enjoyed the most. As ASD often presents with motor and cognitive impairments that can hinder participation in physical activity, Grealish focused on developing activity systems that were fun and adaptable for residents.

The Faison Residence’s community members participating in group exerciseShe crafted a 10-week, 40-class physical activity program, which utilized visual aids, schedules, and tailored instructional methods designed for the community.

Her program was built on a range of activities such as walking, strength and yoga sessions, basketball, and open gym sessions. Although participation in the program was voluntary, week after week, Grealish’s program recorded high participation numbers and high satisfaction scores among the residents.

 “I have never thought of myself as an athlete until I started doing this class. I feel more and more like an athlete each time. I really like it,” one resident said.

Over 10 weeks, Grealish observed increases in participants’ motor skills and endurance levels, and noted that game-based activities, such as basketball and open gym, were the most popular among the residents – highlighting the value of incorporating elements of play and recreation into physical programs.

Grealish’s program was so successful that  The Faison Residence decided to continue it past the initial 10 weeks, and with Grealish’s guidance and support materials, they are poised to run the program long term for the benefit of the community. “Seeing what started as my capstone project continue on is incredibly rewarding,” said Grealish, “it’s a chance to really see how OT can make a difference in the lives of others.”

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