Rec Therapy Month – Alumni Spotlight Austyn Durden Suits

February is National Recreational Therapy Month! Throughout February, HHP will be featuring Recreational Therapy Alumni.

Meet Austyn Durden Suits! Austyn is a Recreational Therapy class of 2016 alumna, who now works as a Program Coordinator for The Autism Society of North Carolinas Social Recreation Program located in Winterville, NC. 

How did you become interested in this field?

I became interested in Recreational Therapy because I wanted to be involved in bettering individualslives, without being in a hospital type setting. Throughout my research, I loved the idea of being able to improve individualslives providing vital therapy all while having fun. I wanted that job that was different and exciting each day, and Recreational Therapy seemed to have a variety of settings where that would be the case!

What were some of your favorite recreational therapy courses while studying here at ECU?
Some of my favorite recreational therapy courses while studying at ECU were the Comprehensive and Individual Treatment Programming and Disability Survey for RT Services. I believe both classes helped me with learning how to facilitate interventions and activities and my overall knowledge of various disabilities. The knowledge I gained in each of the classes has helped me to be prepared for my current roles and responsibilities.

What aspects of recreational therapy do you enjoy the most?

I love that there are a wide variety of populations that you can work with. Being a recreational therapist, opens doors to so many opportunities! I personally fell in love with the developmental disabilities population, specifically working with individuals with autism. Because of my degree and licensure in recreational therapy, I am able to work at a program that improves the lives of individuals with autism all while having fun in a very social and recreational type setting. Each day, I see personal growth, laughter, and skill building in each of my clients through the use of playing games with friends, art, exercise, music, and more!

Describe your current employer?

At my current employer, I am the Program Coordinator for The Autism Society of North Carolina’s Social Recreation Program in Winterville, NC. My program works to improve the lives of individuals with autism while providing a caring, accepting atmosphere, where individuals can be themselves! Through full-day summer camp, afterschool programming, recreational respite, and adult programming, individuals on the autism spectrum work to improve their social and communication skills, peer networks, and physical well-being. In my role, I oversee full-time Activity Director staff members; train and manage part-time staff members who work directly with individuals with autism; plan community events, such as, a sensory friendly holiday party with a Santa visit and a trunk or treat Halloween event; and coordinate our program volunteers.

What is a typical work day like for you?

A typical day for myself is fun and rewarding! When I arrive in the morning, I work to complete any daily logistic work that I may have, such as answering emails, assisting with the hiring of staff members and volunteers, creating visual supports and structures for clients, and ensuring that each of our clients has an up-to-date care and treatment plan. After that, I am involved in overseeing and managing our programming. In doing that, I make sure that programming is meaningful, and our Activity Directors, staff, and clients are supported in any capacity needed. Our programming consists of activities, such as arts and crafts, gym games, outside play time, and music and motion.

What has been your favorite experience working in recreational therapy so far?

My favorite experience working in recreational therapy so far has been being able to use my degree in a field where I see growth each day. Through the use of social and recreational activities, each one of my clients is able to improve their lives each and every day. I have always enjoyed working with developmental disabilities and having a discipline where I can have fun each day, and build skills while doing that, is such a bonus!

Where do you see the future of recreational therapy headed?

The future of recreational therapy is a bright one, in my opinion! I believe that, in any setting, physical, social, and emotional growth is easier to achieve by having fun with engaging activities. If recreational therapists can continue to offer sessions and programs that clients enjoy while taking their personal interests to heart, the improvement to their overall health will be immeasurable.

What is the greatest challenge recreational therapists face?

The greatest challenge recreational therapists face is continuity between agencies, and therapists having to be very adaptable in different settings. I very much enjoyed my internship, but it was vastly different than my current job in regard to documentation and protocols. This is also a testament to the organization and adaptability that it takes to be a recreational therapist.

What advice would give to students who wish to enter this field?

The best advice that I would give to students who wish to enter the field is to volunteer or work part time jobs in various disciplines where a recreational therapist may/does work. This will give you good direction and connections for your future internship and jobs. My current program enjoys hiring recreational therapy students, and if interested, our website is a great tool to seek more information on applying.