Magic Trainer David Harrison reports on his experience during Magic Camp.

I was never one of those people who always knew what they wanted to do as a career. You know the type; the pilots or police officers who jumped out of their cradles knowing that this was their lifetime ambition. That was not how it happened for me. Indecisive to a fault, I went through many different potential career paths. I think at one point I wanted to be an interior designer or an inventor. But the one thing I did know quite young was that I wanted to work in a field where I helped others.

Currently I am training to be an Occupational Therapist on a part-time in-service route. But before I first went to university to do a degree in Psychology and then a Masters in Professional Writing, I hadn’t even heard of Occupational Therapy. A lot of people assume that the word “occupation” relates to just work, but the word “occupy” is closer to what we’re talking about; how we occupy our time. As humans, we are meant to be occupied and engaged in activities. There are many factors that can affect our ability to complete meaningful activities (occupations): physical illness or disability, mood, environment, financial constraints and many more. Occupational Therapists work with people to learn, adapt, modify and change the way they complete activities, to increase their independence and improve their quality of life.

Because of my genetic predisposition to indecisiveness, my experiences have been quite varied. I’ve worked as a therapy assistant in an inpatient brain injury rehabilitation hospital, a low-secure forensic mental health facility, and in my current role as a rehab assistant for a community neurology team. Here I work alongside different therapists such as Physiotherapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Psychologists, Dieticians and Community Nurses, and I complete therapy interventions for each of these allied health professions. I like that the focus of therapy is on activities that are meaningful to clients.You have to problem-solve situations to improve a person’s independence and quality of life and for that you have to use a wide range of skills and have to be highly adaptable.

The role is so varied and so applicable to all walks of life, I realised that this is the perfect role for someone like me who can never make up their mind!

I found out about Breathe Magic through my course. When we received the flyer asking if we would like to spend two weeks teaching magic tricks to children with hemiplegia, I was very eager to take part. Not only was this a perfect opportunity to get paediatric rehabilitation experience (highly coveted and rarely available for placement), it also sounded like it would be a blast.

On a training day held before the camp, we met Dr Will Houstoun, one of the magicians running the camps. He showed us several tricks using coins; each trick more elaborate and entertaining than the last. Afterwards, he asked us to remember the sense of wonder and excitement we had felt when we watched him perform, because this was the gift of giving magic to others.

At the camp all activities are specifically chosen to promote naturalistic two-handed use. As a magic trainer, I was assigned to a different child each day, and spent the whole day with them; going through their magic tricks, providing hand-over-hand facilitation, problem-solving difficulties, keeping them motivated, and just being there to support them. Each young magician experiences hemiplegia differently; some might have difficulty flexing their fingers, others struggled to make a pincer grip, and some were able to grasp objects but struggled to release them. Every day, the magic trainers and Young Magicians were working together to solve the specific problems they faced when working on a trick.

Having never worked with children or adolescents before, I too developed skills. I learned to motivate and interact with them, and I never really had to do hand-over-hand facilitation before, so that was a valuable professional experience. Organising bi-manual play sessions developed my skills in running groups with children and young people.

It was a challenging and steep learning curve but also highly rewarding.

The Young Magicians made observable improvements in their ability to complete functional two-handed tasks. If you can imagine the intricate and subtle movements required to perform magic, the camp tested and honed their fine motor skills in spades. The Young Magicians develop a unique skill they could show off to their friends and families, and they gained confidence in themselves and their abilities. Standing up in front of an audience to deliver a magic trick is demanding, and the Young Magicians were pros. This further demonstrates the holistic nature of Occupational Therapy: not solely focused on a person’s physical challenges it helps these young people develop skills that will enable them to succeed in all areas of their lives. The camps foster qualities in the children they had been using all along; patience, resilience, courage, determination and perseverance.

A personal highlight was the grand magic show at the end where the Young Magicians performed in front of their families. Part of the camp involves the children being filmed at the start and at the end; showing their difficulties with functional tasks like tying shoelaces and the progress they’ve made after two weeks.

After seeing the Young Magicians grow in confidence and ability, I couldn’t help but take pride in their performances.

It also highlighted just how much we take for granted when we are well. Simple things like tying our shoes can be so frustrating when it takes minutes rather than seconds. Over the course of the day this adds up with every activity that requires two hands or intricate fine motor skills. It also made me appreciate how much change can be implemented in a short burst of intense intervention. If we’re going to be champions of independence, then we also need to advocate for our clients to those around them, such as their families. Another challenge of this experience was convincing parents and carers to step back and let their children struggle, work through their mistakes, and find their own ways of coping, even if it takes longer.

In my training, we talk a lot about how occupations can be restorative, and give us a genuine feeling of joy. I love to sing and play the piano, but in recent years I haven’t dedicated any time to either, as I get easily embarrassed when I sing in public, and I don’t have access to a piano in order to practice. Since completing the Breath Magic camp, I’ve put more time and effort into both of these occupations. Because if these kids, with the challenges they have faced, can perfectly perform magic tricks that bring joy and wonder to their captive audiences, then what excuse do I have not to try?