CONVERSATIONS WITH… A Child Life Therapist

Fadzilah uses various playthings to ease the fears of her young patients who are terrified of their impending ops.

Any kind of surgery is bound to turn your little one into a quivering bundle of anxiety. Not surprisingly, their loved ones feel the same kind of apprehension and concern, too. This is where Fadzilah Kamsin, a senior child life therapist at the National University Hospital comes in. As a child life therapist, she uses play as a tool to help patients cope with their health-related fears and anxieties.

Therapeutic-play support strategies are utilised to calm her patients, who range from babies to adolescents. Also known as medical play, it uses make-belief and imagination to help these ailing children understand their treatment procedures. Her anxiety-busting “arsenal” features tools for patients of different ages. For instance, she’ll explain using bubbles for toddlers and tablets for the older kids.

Fadzilah explains, “Through medical play, we will be able to assess their understanding of their illness and treatment, as well as [look for] any signs of fear, anxiety or any misconceptions they might have about their illness.”

Medical play uses make-belief and imagination to help these ailing children understand their treatment procedures.

For example, to get a diabetic child to grasp his need for regular insulin injections, she lets him use replicas of the real thing — such as a syringe without the needle — to administer jabs on dolls or teddy bears. Besides conducting play sessions, Fadzilah also helps patients with chronic illnesses to overcome emotional problems like low self-esteem. She also helps her charges come to terms with regressive conditions or who are grieving about a sibling’s poor health.

You mentioned using “distraction tools” to divert your patients’ attention during painful procedures. What are these?
Distraction tools [can vary] based on the developmental age of the patient. For toddlers, we use cause-and-effect toys with light and sound, bubbles and picture books. For preschool children, we use tablets, books, toys or the child’s object of interest. For patients who are of Primary school age and above, we use tablets, or talk to them about a topic of interest, use guided imagery or [have them] listen to music.