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Maria Balzan, Occupational Therapist at Casa Apap Bologna

Hila is a place that feels like home for the residents and service users. A place where as the name translates, they are given the opportunity to use their abilities in all aspects of life. The abilities of the individual are seen beyond the disabilities and are supported as required. For me, it’s not just a place of work, but it’s a place where I am connected with others, an extended family.

I always had a passion to help other individuals. This passion started with my sister who was diagnosed with Autism and global development delay at a young age. Initially, the thought of supporting my younger sister whilst working with persons with disabilities was overwhelming.

Hila allowed me to meet with families of persons with disabilities with whom I empathized and could relate to. It offered me the opportunity to work with other health care professionals and learn so much from them.

It is rewarding to see parents have the rest they truly needed

Throughout my experience working at Casa Apap Bologna, I have had many rewarding experiences that would be difficult to write them all down. The one that I feel was very rewarding was when we had parents who approached us that they needed to start using the respite service for their adolescent son with autism. Their son started to trust us with time and we formed a therapeutic relationship.  We graded the transition very gradually moving from one hour stay with the parents present, one hour without the parents, two hours, five hours… etc. we then managed to have an overnight stay which went very well. It was so rewarding to see the parents have the rest that they truly needed, while their son is in good hands.

“I try to get to know the person not just from a clinical perspective”

As an Occupational Therapist, my work revolves around occupations; meaning the person’s wants, wishes, and preferences are irrelevant to the diagnosis. If I meet a new client, I try to get to know the person as a person. I ask things such as “what they like to do, what interests them in life, their personal history and experiences” among others. The diagnosis will then help me to understand more and assist in the clinical goal setting, however, it is not the most important thing. If you only look at the diagnosis you will realise that automatically you start labeling clients and stereotyping.

 My extended family

Hila clients have become my extended family. This might sound like a cliche, but it is very much true. I feel that especially after the Covid-19 lockdown that we did together, we became even closer. Therefore there are so many things that I love about the clients. If I had to pin it to just one favorite thing, it would be their smile. No matter what, their smile is always contagious, pure, and soulful.

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