Occupational therapy is an evidence-based, holistic approach to helping individuals of all ages accomplish what they desire and need to do as part of their activities of daily living (occupations).
People with injuries or disabilities and those with chronic illnesses can benefit from occupational therapy.
Examples of occupational therapy interventions include:
- Helping patients regain strength after an injury through therapeutic exercises.
- Helping older adults manage physical and mental changes associated with aging, such as loss of balance and coordination.
- Assisting children with various disabilities to improve their performance in school and social settings.
Occupational therapy may help individuals with a disability, injury, illness, or chronic pain adapt and learn ways to accomplish tasks such as eating and dressing without assistance or using a device such as a cane or a walker.
HOW DOES OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY WORK?
An occupational therapist starts with an individual evaluation of the patient to assess the concerns and set goals.
The therapist then designs a plan with the patient (and family members as needed) to help achieve these goals.
The program may consist of regular sessions with the therapist to work on physical activities or social interactions and actions or exercises to work on at home.
Finally, the occupational therapist will plan a follow-up assessment to ensure that the goals are being met and to adjust and develop new interventions if necessary.
Some specific examples of occupational therapy goals include teaching individuals who have suffered a stroke how to improve balance, teaching someone how to use a wheelchair or other assistive device, and teaching children who struggle with handwriting to enhance their motor skills.
Occupational therapy occurs in many locations, including schools, hospitals, private practice offices, outpatient clinics, patients’ homes, rehab centers, and even workplace settings.
Individuals who have had surgery or suffered a stroke may be referred to an occupational therapist as part of the recovery process.
An occupational therapist undergoes graduate training (a master’s degree) and must pass a national exam and earn a license to practice.
Some occupational therapists specialize in certain groups, such as older adults, children, or post-surgical rehab patients.
If you seek an occupational therapist, your primary care doctor or local hospital is one place to start.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY FOR CHILDREN
A child’s main occupation is playing and learning, and if injuries, disabilities, or sensory issues get in the way of doing normal childhood activities, occupational therapy can help.
Occupational therapists can assess children to determine whether they need occupational therapy support.
Children may benefit from occupational therapy if they have conditions including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing disorders, traumatic injuries (such as to the brain and spinal cord),
developmental delays, learning disabilities (such as dyslexia), mental health or behavior problems, broken bones, post-surgical conditions, chronic medical conditions, or the need for assistive devices such as wheelchairs.
Occupational therapy is becoming a more common intervention for children in a school setting.
In addition to helping children with disabilities, occupational therapy strategies can benefit children with school-based issues such as staying seated and behaving appropriately.
Placing a child near the teacher, providing a wiggle seat or particular stool, or identifying sensory problems such as loud noises or uncomfortably bright lights that might be impacting learning are all problems that can be addressed by occupational therapy.
Other issues include working on motor skills better to hold a pencil, book, or musical instrument. Occupational therapists may be based in schools.
Outside therapists may work with teachers to develop ideas to improve motor skills, cognitive processing, visual or perceptual problems, attention to tasks, and organization.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY AND AGING
As the American population ages, occupational therapy may become increasingly important as part of a larger plan to help adults manage age-related physical and mental changes to stay healthy and active
. For example, older adults with a history of falling may curtain activities out of fear of additional falls.
An occupational therapist can improve the patient’s strength and balance, boost confidence, and address and modify potential risk factors at homes such as loose rugs, uneven stairs, or a lack of handrails in bathrooms or other areas.
Driving is another area in which occupational therapy can help aging adults stay safe.
Occupational therapists are qualified to evaluate driving skills based on factors coordination, vision, reaction time, and judgment.
They may recommend modifications to a vehicle to help keep drivers safe, such as changing a seat position or installing an accelerator for the left foot instead of the right.
Other recommendations from an occupational therapist may be that the individual refrains from night driving.
OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY AND REHAB
Occupational therapy can be an essential part of the recovery process for individuals of any age who have gone thru a disease or injury that makes it difficult for them to perform regular daily activities.
Stroke survivors often have physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy can help them learn to modify their home environment to accommodate these changes, learn new ways of moving, sitting, or standing, and using devices such as a walker.
Persons who have had hip or knee substitutes often work with an occupational therapist on a short-term basis as part of their post-surgical recovery.
Occupational therapy can also benefit individuals recovering from hand and arm injuries such as fractures, burns, amputations, or tendon or nerve repair surgeries.
Acquired illnesses such as carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis in hand can be helped by occupational therapy.
The therapist works with the client to conclude their goals and designs strategies and exercises to help achieve these goals and preserve their previous roles and habits as possible.
“Occupational Therapy.” Kidshealth.org. March 2014. https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/occupational-therapy.html (accessed December 16, 2018).
Opp, Ashley. “Occupational Therapy and Older Drivers.” Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy/Professionals/PA/Articles/Driving.aspx (accessed December 17, 2018).
“What is Occupational Therapy?” Aota.org. https://www.aota.org/About-Occupational-Therapy.aspx (accessed December 16, 2018).
American Occupational Therapy Association, 4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 200, Bethesda, MD, 20814, (301) 652-6611, https://www.aota.org/AboutAOTA/Contact-Us.aspx, https://www.aota.org.