Helping special needs children through professional internship

Pictured (L-R) are: Susan Mitchell, Lecturer in Occupational Therapy at the University of Plymouth; Andy McDermott-Brown, Smirthwaite Technical Product Advisor; Jade Hearson; Gemma Curtis; Claire Litton, Smirthwaite; and Joe Henderson, Smirthwaite Regional Sales Manager


Two occupational therapy students have completed a studentship with a company that makes specialist equipment for children with special needs.

Jade Hearson and Gemma Curtis both successfully applied for the opportunity with Smirthwaite near Newton Abbot thanks to its collaboration with the University of Plymouth, and spent three months developing materials to help the organisation promote its work. 

They had to produce a professional and informative video about the benefits of a product for a child with a specific disability – exploring the vital adaptations needed for children with additional needs and conditions such as cerebral palsy.

Learning about how facilities need to be adapted to help children has helped them in their academic work, and they are both taking their learnings into their third and final year of study.

Jade, who also co-leads local charity Sense-Aware to help children with autism, said:

“I’ve always wanted to work in paediatric occupational therapy, so when I heard about this opportunity, I knew I wanted to apply. Learning about the products not only informed the video work in the studentship but also gave me lots to think about in a future career.”

Gemma said: 

“Occupational therapy is all about helping people work through or live with a condition and helping them through everyday activities. Seeing how Smirthwaite manufactures these clinical chairs to help make them fun was really insightful and I thoroughly enjoyed the project.”

Claire Litton, Commercial Manager at Smirthwaite, said: 

“It’s been an absolute privilege to be able to partner with the University of Plymouth to develop this opportunity, we have been able to gain invaluable insight and discover ways of further supporting the local community. We feel very honoured to have been involved in the development of Gemma and Jade’s future, whom we are confident will go on to have highly successful careers.”

Occupational therapy is one of 14 Allied Health Professions (AHPs) celebrated as part of the inaugural national AHPs Day on Monday 15 October #AHPsDay. The aim of the day is to celebrate the work of AHPs and encourage people to consider it as a career.

Student Jade Hearson co-founded Plymouth charity, Sense Aware, to help children with autism

In January 2018 the charity won a grant from the Aviva Community Fund, and has been able to expand its Devonport Park Activity Centre to support more children with autism, learning disabilities and/or mental health conditions, and their families.

Find out more about charity Sense Aware and its work

Interested in occupational therapy? Watch our short film to get a feel for studying with the University of Plymouth

You can learn in the lecture but actually being able to communicate and assess when with a client is vital - put everything you've learned into practice on your placement year.

Course Leader Marnie Smith introduces occupational therapy at Plymouth

  • > Accredited by the College of Occupational Therapists
  • ' Experience practice placements for professional practice
  • A *92 per cent of students agreed staff made the subject interesting
  • ) Our BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy course is ranked 3rd overall, by the Complete University Guide 2019