PTA students spend time with Special Olympians
Story and Photos
By Sarayuth Pinthong
Media Club Reporter and Photographer
MECHANICSBURG – About 50 Central Penn College physical therapy assistant (PTA) students, along with others from five area counties, participated in a Special Olympics event held at Messiah College, in April.
For the students, being a part of Central Penn’s PTA program provides opportunities they normally wouldn’t have in class. The Special Olympics event, consisting of around 1,150 athletes, was a chance to engage with special-needs individuals or “buddies.”
“It exposes our PTA students to those with special needs in a playful environment while allowing them the chance to participate in an event that challenges their skills,” Prof. Jacki Rothschild, academic coordinator of clinical education at Central Penn College, said.
Students in various stages of the program learned from the event. Some students were surprised when they arrived on Messiah’s campus.
Working in the field
“It was a little overwhelming at first,” said Jordan Reichard, second-term PTA student.
Reichard was experienced working with kids, but the event presented new situations for him.
“I couldn’t communicate the way I normally would,” Reichard said about meeting his deaf “buddy,” referring to the buddy system approached used during the event, in which college students and Special Olympics students were one another’s “buddies,” or companions.
Reichard said he was able to connect with his “buddy.”
“At first, when I would kneel down to talk to her, she would move away,” he said. “By the end of the day, I got used to her mannerisms. She was a lot more comfortable, which made me more comfortable.”
Rewards for Reichard included allowing him to witness the importance of support for the athletes and their families.
“No matter who the patient is, there’s always a way to connect with them,” Reichard said.
A rigorous program
The PTA program is intense. Students spend many hours studying to complete it. But classroom learning always allow the best insight to what happens outside the classroom.
“My ‘buddy’ challenged me to step out of the physical aspect of therapy,” Amanda Harris, a PTA student in her last term, said. “My professors were diligent about being creative on reading your patients.”
Being able to adapt is important when connecting with patients.
“It’s good to have a plan,” Harris said. “But each person responds differently to different forms of communication and learning.”
She added that every situation is different and “you need to be ready to change.”
A good time, too
The event provided more than learning opportunities. Students collected memories they’ll carry long after the event.
“The didactic work that our students experience is one thing,” Rothschild said. “Our students take their buddy, the experiences they’ve collected, and carry it with them into future endeavors, creating a bond between the students and the Special Olympic athletes.”
Despite the challenges involved in meeting an individual for the first time and adapting to possibly extreme situations, the Central Penn PTA students were able to create memories with their buddies, while also having fun.
Sarayuth “Sy” Pinthong is the media club’s secretary and photographer/videographer.
To comment on this story, or to suggest a story idea, contact the KnightlyEditors@CentralPenn.edu.
Edited by media club co-adviser Prof. Michael Lear-Olimpi.