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When Animals & Occupational Therapy Meet

by South University
January 11, 2019
A photo of two South University occupational therapy assistant students.

As they approach the horse, some students are hesitant and nervous. Others are thrilled—they’ve been looking forward to this day since their pediatrics class started. Part of the Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy Assistant program South University, Richmond,* these students are visiting the Wings of Hope Ranch for a case study project. They’ve been given a description of a patient and now they need to determine how to meet the needs of that patient using animal-assisted therapy with horses.

For those unfamiliar with the field, occupational therapy helps patients to develop, recover, and maintain the skills needed for their daily lives, whether they’re at home, work, school, or in public spaces. To build these skills, occupational therapy assistants and therapists employ a number of tools and methods, and lately, more and more animals—including horses—are finding their way into therapy sessions.

What is Animal-Assisted Therapy?

In animal-assisted therapy, healthcare professionals use trained therapy animals to help patients engaged in occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy, and other related practices. Their therapy goals remain the same, with the animal serving as a motivating or calming factor for the patient.

“You could use these horses, or the family's pet dog or a cat, or almost any animal. A nursing home I worked at years ago had a pot-bellied pig,” says Kimberly Alford, the Occupational Therapy Assistant program instructor who leads the South University students on their visit to Wings of Hope.

Recent research has shown that animal-assisted therapy can increase patient communication, language use, movement, play, and overall engagement in therapy. “Research shows especially individuals who've experienced trauma do much better when using animals in therapy,” notes Alford.

Animal-assisted therapy is also a common tool for working with children with autism spectrum disorders, Down syndrome, ADHD, cerebral palsy, and many other conditions.

Using Animal-Assisted Therapy in Occupational Therapy

The Wings of Hope Ranch outside Richmond where our students visit is home to eight rescued horses used to help a variety of children in need.

Brushing a horse can be a particularly effective means of occupational therapy, explains Alford. “If we need to increase shoulder and arm strength, reaching to the top of a horse involves a lot of repetitions of moving your arms up high, like you would in exercise. Because many patients are more motivated to brush a horse than to lift a one- or two-pound weight, we can get more repetitions with this method.”

To understand how this might help a patient, the South University students try their own hand at horse grooming. From there, they’re tasked with creating a treatment plan for the patient described in the case study. “They have to understand everything grooming the horse requires and how to teach that,” says Alford. “Things like sequencing multiple steps, bending and stooping, grasping different items, changing positions, safety awareness, attention to task, there are all of those components.”

Grooming horses can even teach and motivate children to follow personal grooming and hygiene practices. “Kids who won't allow you to fix their hair may allow it to be brushed and fixed to go into the riding helmet,” notes Alford.

Beyond grooming, the animal therapy teaches children how to interact with and build trust with the horses. By sitting on the horse, they also work on balance and their back and trunk muscles.

Many other animals are common in occupational therapy. For example, therapy dogs may be used to distract patients who are being stretched. Alternatively, therapy dogs may help motivate patients to complete activities that improve range of motion, coordination, fine motor skills, and strength. This might include a patient cutting up treats, feeding the animal, putting on a leash, or playing games with them. Tasks involving multiple steps can help patients improve cognitive functioning and memory.

Using animals for therapy can even motivate children who refuse to eat. “Kids who were fed through a tube early in life often have great difficulty eating later in life,” says Alford. “To get them to try new food, you might set it up so that if they eat their food, they're allowed to feed a bite to the dog or other therapy animal as a reward or reinforcement.

Preparing for an Occupational Therapy Career

At South University, learning about animal-assisted therapy is only one aspect of preparing to become an occupational therapy assistant. Our 2-year associate’s (AAS) degree occupational therapy assistant programs include both coursework and clinical experiences. Richmond students particularly interested in pursuing an animal-assisted therapy job may further explore that area through their fieldwork and may return to Wings of Hope for service-learning projects. However, they’ll also gain experience across settings and therapy tools.

“Animal-assisted therapy is a specialized way to use your therapy skills, but the biggest thing for us is that this experience provides another unique opportunity for our students to practice their clinical reasoning,” says Alford of her students’ time at Wings of Hope. “As a therapist, the tools you use can change a lot but that clinical reasoning remains the same.

At a pool, a therapist focuses on aquatics therapy. In the state of Virginia, occupational therapists can’t bring anything into the house with them on home visits, so they use only what’s on hand, Alford explains. “Every situation, every setting requires applying your clinical reasoning skills to use what's available to help your patient.”

To learn more about preparing for an occupational therapy career at a South University campus near you, request information or explore our Occupational Therapy programs today!

*See http://ge.southuniversity.edu/programoffering/4532 for program duration, tuition, fees and other costs, median debt, alumni success, and other important info.

by South University
January 11, 2019
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A Guide to Setting & Keeping New Year’s Resolutions for Students

by South University
December 31, 2018
A photo of two South University physical therapist assistant students.

The start of a new year signals a time to reflect and reset, to decide what new goals to pursue and where to focus your energy. If the idea of growth and development resonates with you right now in your academic, professional, or personal life, creating a new year’s resolution list can help to set you up for success.

Planning Your New Year’s Resolution List

For starters, you can pick either a few goals to stay focused on throughout the year or decide to select one aspect of your life to work on each month. Once you know your new year goals, begin by honestly assessing where you are today. Then set a specific, measurable goal for how much you want to improve and by when, listing the steps you need to take to get there.

To make sure you take action, set reminders to check in with your progress regularly, perhaps once a week. Ask yourself what’s working, what’s not, and what you should change. If you’re not meeting your goals, keep trying different strategies until you do.

Example New Year’s Resolution Ideas

A photo of South University students at their commencement ceremony.

To help you get started, here are a few smart goal examples for students to consider as you brainstorm new year’s resolution ideas.

  1. Complete your assignments early.
    Aiming to complete your projects and assignments at least one day early is one of the smartest academic goals you can set. When you stop procrastinating, you can reduce the stress of finishing projects at the final hour and gain an extra day to resolve any unexpected last-minute issues.

  2. Build your community of support.
    As a student, there will be times when you need encouragement or advice, so it’s good to not only stay close with current friends and family but also try to meet new people, like classmates or colleagues you haven’t talked with. Being social can be the perfect mental break when you need time away from schoolwork. By connecting with colleagues, classmates, and faculty, you’ll have people you can turn to for professional advice as well.

    If this makes your new year’s resolution list, remember to choose specific actionable goals, such as calling your sibling weekly or attending 3 social events per month. If your goal is vague, it’s too easy to not do it.

  3. Join school, community, or professional organizations.
    This new year’s resolution can help you build your network and get out of your comfort zone. By joining an organization, you could try something new, contribute to your community or professional field, and pick up new skills. Pursue this goal by breaking it down into steps—researching organizations, joining, attending, etc.—so that you follow through and stay involved.

  4. Stay focused while you work.
    Learning to stay on task is a big part of time management. To achieve this, find tools and techniques that help you stay focused, like a browser add-on or mobile app that blocks social media sites during set hours or following the Pomodoro technique to do your schoolwork (and only your school work) for set amounts of time. Again, if you choose this as a new year’s resolution, be sure to set measurable goals and track your improvements.

  5. Make healthy eating choices.
    Anyone with a full schedule knows how easy it is to fall into unhealthy eating habits. However, with a little planning, you can eat healthier. Healthy eating starts with smart grocery shopping as well as planning your meals and snacks. When setting health goals, name specific food to eat less of or stop buying. You don’t have to cut out sweets or fast food, but you can set limits for yourself.

  6. Prioritize physical activity.
    Adding more physical activity to your routine can actually increase your energy for your busy days. For the sake of measurement, include a desired number of workouts or a total movement time per week in your physical fitness new year goals. With some physical activity, you can also set goals for speed or reps.

  7. Get more sleep.
    How much sleep do you get on an average night? Do you have a regular sleep routine? Do you stay up late and then wake up early to finish your work? To achieve your goals for school, you need to approach each day with a fresh mind. That starts with a full night’s sleep. Remember you don’t have to get there right away. Instead, work up to 7 or 8 hours. Begin by removing habits that might be making it harder to fall asleep or causing you to wake up in the night.

Help with Achieving Your Academic Goals

If you need guidance or support on creating a plan to achieve your academic goals, ask your academic advisor for assistance. They can help with items on your new year’s resolution list that include goals like to stop procrastinating, earn higher grades, and improve your time management skills, to name a few. Our faculty and staff are here to help you with making 2019 your best year yet!

by South University
December 31, 2018
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How to Stay Focused & Productive This Holiday Season

by South University
December 5, 2018
A photo of two South University nursing students studying a piece of medical equipment.

The holidays can be a time of celebration and fun, but they’re also known for being hectic and stressful. If you’re already busy with work and school during the rest of the year, here’s how you can better manage your time, focus, and productivity this holiday season.

Prioritize wisely

With everything going on this holiday season, clear your mind by getting your to-dos out of your head and onto paper. Whether it’s about school, work, or your personal life, write it down and decide if it should be done, today, this week, or later this month. You may be able to delegate some personal tasks to a helpful friend, family member, or spouse. If you explain that school is making you busier than normal and that you need to stay focused on working toward your goals, you’ll likely find someone willing to pitch in.

Make sure you’re also strategic in what you say yes to. For example, you likely don’t need to attend an event every weekend. To stay focused, you first must choose what to focus on and prioritize what matters.

Break down big projects

When you’re feeling overwhelmed by a school or work project and you already have a long list of holiday to-dos, skipping straight to the holidays is tempting. Instead, stop procrastinating and break down your project into manageable tasks. Ask yourself what is the first thing you need to do for your project. The second? Third? Keep going until you have a clear plan. Then work your way through each part and enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing each step.

Dividing time between your project and holiday list is fine as long as you’re not ignoring your project entirely.

“Give yourself time each day to work on your project until it’s done, so that you can get to your other priorities,” says Alexandra Young, Student Services Manager for South University.

Keep others informed

“The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with friends and family,” Young says. “However, you should let them know when you’ll be taking time before your gatherings for schoolwork. This allows you to stay ahead of the due dates so you won’t be worrying about assignments while you spend time with loved ones.”

Communicating in advance also sets expectations, so that you have fewer interruptions and can finish your work faster. The same goes for telling the people who live with you, especially if they’re taking time off work or your children are out of school while you’re at home working. Let people know what you’re doing and for how long so you can stay focused.

Shop smart

A photo of a South University student using a computer.

Whether you’re shopping online or in person, it’s easy to get caught up browsing the pages or aisles without realizing how much time has passed. Before shopping, create a to-do list and set a limit for how long you’ll shop.

Online shopping also makes it tempting to buy things as they come to mind. But don’t let shopping distract you from your work. Instead, decide what day and time you’ll shop and add it to your calendar. When you think of something to buy, simply add it to your list or online calendar event, so that you can do all your shopping at once.

On shopping days, stick to your list and keep an eye on the clock. For an even more productive day, squeeze in some reading or an assignment in before or after shopping.

Take advantage of days off

Over the holidays, you’ll have some days off class, but you can still work on coursework over your break. Young suggests, “Try to find time for readings or submitting a discussion response before big events.” (That way there’s no need to leave early and you can fully enjoy yourself.)

If you’re caught up, check your syllabus for upcoming work and find ways to get ahead. This helps you to stay in the routine of doing schoolwork, so that you’re still in the zone and ready to keep learning when your classes resume.

Enjoying the Holiday Season

Whatever tips you use for how to stay focused this holiday season, make sure you give yourself time for fun and family.

“Going to school can even be a great talking point to share with those who care about you! Let them know what assignments you’re working on during this festive time and share what assignments you really like,” says Young.

“Don’t look at school as a hurdle through the holidays; instead see it as a great accomplishment that you are progressing toward something positive!”

by South University
December 5, 2018
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5 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft Online

by South University
November 29, 2018
A photo of a woman using a cell phone.

Around-the-world connectivity. Instant information sharing. Holiday gifts that can be purchased and shipped with only a few clicks. More cat videos than you could ever watch. The internet has given us many amazing things. Unfortunately, the internet also comes with its share of dangers. Chief amongst them is the threat of online identity theft. Identity theft occurs when an unscrupulous individual steals your personal and financial information, typically to use it for their own gain.

As more and more of our lives and daily transactions happen online, cyber security should be a concern for not just businesses but for all individuals. Luckily, you don’t have to be an information technology expert to reduce your risk of identity theft online. (However, those with an information technology or information systems degree who know how to secure business information and systems are in high demand!)

Below are some of the most effective steps you can take to prevent identity theft.

  1. Recognize and avoid malicious emails
    Malicious emails may look like they’re from a bank, government agency, or other business. These emails might inform of you of an urgent problem and encourage you to immediately call a number or click a link, where you’ll be asked for personal, financial, or login information. Never click on a link unless you are absolutely sure the email is authentic. Check the from address carefully for misspellings and to make sure it’s from a company email address.

    If you’re suspicious, get the company’s contact info from any paper documents you have or by looking them up online. Contact them directly using that information rather than the details provided in the email.

  2. Pay attention to URLs
    Before logging into or entering any sensitive information in a form online, check the security of the website. It should say “https” at the beginning and show a lock icon before the URL. Also, be sure that you are on a legitimate website. Hackers or cyber criminals may create sites that look nearly identical to the real site but have minor differences in the URL spelling. They may also use a different domain than the actual website, such as using .net when it should be .com or. gov.

  3. Update your software regularly
    Keep your software up-to-date on all devices from which you access the internet—including your smartphone, tablet, and computer. Doing so will decrease the likelihood that hackers will be able to access your files and information by finding and take advantage of vulnerabilities in outdated software. This include operating systems, internet browsers, email clients, and even Microsoft products like Word and Excel.

  4. Fortify your passwords
    Strong passwords are one of the best ways to secure your sensitive information. One way to create strong passwords is to use a sentence or phrase that is at least 12 characters long (including both capital and lowercase letters). For your most important accounts, turn on multi-factor authentication so that you get a text message or email to confirm your identity when logging in.

    Each account should have a unique password. Otherwise, someone only has to steal one password to access all of your information. Of course, managing multiple passwords can be difficult and overwhelming. A password manager can help. Password managers store all of your passwords for you and only require you to remember the password that allows you to access your password manager.

  5. Shop smart
    Before shopping on a new website, research that site to make sure it has good reviews from other consumers so that you know it can be trusted. Avoid submitting financial information or checking your bank account over public WiFi. Likewise, it’s best to use a personal computer rather than a public one for shopping and banking, since you don’t know what computers might be infected with malware.

    When shopping online, paying by credit card is a safe option because you can work with your credit card company to get your money back if your order isn’t delivered or you’re given the wrong items. PayPal is another option that can offer you protection. As always, before entering your information, make sure the website URL includes https so that you know you’re on a secure site.

Considering a career in information systems and technology?

Every business has information they need to collect, organize, access, share, and protect. To do so, they rely on information technology and systems that must be designed and managed by professionals in the field. Does working in this ever-evolving and increasingly critical field sounds exciting to you?

South University can help you prepare with our Bachelor of Science in Information Technology and Master of Science in Information Systems degree programs. Learn more today about how these programs can equip you for in-demand careers in technology and business.

by South University
November 29, 2018
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A Simple Guide to Self-Care for Busy Students

by South University
October 24, 2018
A photo of an individual get a check-up by South University nursing students.

The word self-care gets thrown around a lot, so that it can feel like self-care is just one more thing to add to the bottom of your long to-do list. But staying mentally healthy and physically healthy is important, even if you are a busy student juggling your college classes with your personal and professional life. Good self-care routines can have many benefits, including helping you move through life energized and happy.

Below is a list of mental and physical health tips for hardworking students and anyone else ready to take better care of themselves with a few minor changes to their days.

Rejuvenate with a relaxing bedtime ritual and a full night’s sleep

One in three adults don’t get enough sleep. Too little sleep can slow down your reaction times, decrease your ability to focus, and negatively impact your health and energy. If you have trouble falling asleep, follow a consistent sleep schedule. Keep your room dark and quiet with phones on alarm-only mode. A relaxing bedtime ritual—like reading, drinking caffeine-free herbal tea, or taking a soothing bath—can help. At a minimum, let your brain wind down by avoiding tv shows, computers, and exercise for 30 minutes before bedtime.

Eat food that gives you energy for your day

Eating well is among the most important self-care activities. Start with a high-protein breakfast, and then avoid high sugar foods that will result in a crash that will leave you feeling exhausted. If you’re on the go, bring easy-to-eat snacks with you for the day ahead, like nuts, yogurt, or pre-cut veggies. If you know you get too busy during the week to make healthy meals, prep meals over the weekend that you can simply heat up and eat. You can even do breakfast this way, by pre-making and freezing breakfast wraps.

Spend time in nature at least once a week

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, fresh air could help. Being in nature is scientifically shown to lower stress hormones, reduce mental fatigue, and increase emotional well-being, including boosting the serotonin in our brain. Time in nature has also been linked to improved attention span, creativity, and short-term memory. (Studies even suggest that walks in in the woods can lower blood pressure, boost your immune system, and decrease cancer risk.) If you don’t consider yourself the outdoorsy type, don’t worry—weekend hiking excursions aren’t required. Even sitting under the trees in a local park can do you good.

Get moving

Daily physical activity can help you feel more alert, productive, and happier. Of course, when you’re busy, it’s hard to put exercise at the top of your list. To change that, find something you actually like doing. If running or lifting weights is not your thing, try turning up your music and having a daily dance session before the kids come home. Or maybe yoga or kickboxing classes will do the trick. With the many YouTube videos online, you may not even have to leave the house. Your exercise doesn’t need to be intense; just moving and stretching can lower stress and help you stay mentally healthy.

If you need to, get creative and find ways to combine activities. Do you have any one-on-one meetings at work that could be held while walking instead of sitting? Could you do some exercises while watching the evening news? Maybe you could get family time in by going for walks or biking around the neighborhood together. Or plan to go hiking or canoeing with friends to get the triple benefit of exercise, nature, and time spent with people who make you smile.

Quit a bad habit

A photo of an individual talking with a therapist. Self-care doesn’t have to be about starting something new. Sometimes, it’s about quitting what is bad for you. What habits should you stop? Do you feel guilty for eating the junk food in your pantry? Don’t buy it anymore. Get burnt out from sitting so long in front of the computer? Stop doing that and take breaks every 30 minutes instead. From how often we check social media to the way we talk to ourselves, we all have things we should stop doing. Think about it. What’s getting in your way? What can you do to simplify the process of quitting that habit?

Make your self-care routine stick

Remember, a good self-care routine doesn’t have to be fancy. Self-care starts with getting enough sleep, eating well, and moving your body. It involves building some new habits and dropping others. If reading about these self-care activities feels overwhelming, take a step back. Pick one self-care activity to focus on and start there. Change doesn’t happen overnight, so give yourself some grace and aim for progress, not perfection, as you work toward a physically and mentally healthier you.

by South University
October 24, 2018
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