What is Occupational Therapy

What is Occupational Therapy?
This is an excellent question…because OT can look like many different things depending on the setting, and because OT's work in so many different settings;
e.g. hospitals, neo-natal centers, physical rehab facilities, prisons, home health care, nursing homes, psychiatric hospitals, early childhood intervention, schools, etc.

The general answer to the question is:  Occupational therapy helps people to identify what is getting in the way of what they should, could, and want to be doing in their daily lives. OT then helps them to learn build skills and strategies, using their particular strengths, to increase their independence and participation in life.

OT is concerned with addressing an individual’s “occupations” – the daily tasks and roles and responsibilities he/she should, could, and want to be doing. OT is also, very often, an essential link between the medical diagnosis/treatment and the practical reality of a person’s life.

In a hospital, OT's may teach a patient how to safely shower, dress, etc. after a total hip replacement. In a nursing home, OT's may teach a stroke patient how to relearn to perform daily tasks using their one functional hand. OT's may come in and assess our elderly parent’s home for fall risks, accessibility, and safety strategies.

In the school setting, OTs evaluate and address barriers to a student’s ability to function and participate in school - in academic, as well as non-academic areas. In the school setting, OTs work with children in "performance areas" such as:
       Fine Motor skills, Visual Perceptual skills, Self-help skills, Sensory Processing
       And to some degree: Gross Motor and Social skills.

The practice of OT focuses primarily on “client-centered care and perspective”. With children, this means trying to address limitations children may have using activities that children enjoy and find meaningful. We all learn better and assume new habits quicker if they are relevant, e.g. fine motor strength can be addressed and improved just as effectively with fun and interesting activities as with a purely biomechanical exercise-based plan. Play is a major occupation of children  - and thus can, and should, be considered and incorporated into the treatment of childhood limitations.

The school OT room is a kid-friendly environment, happily furnished with sensory and gross motor equipment (e.g. swings, therapy balls, scooter boards), supplies for the development of fine motor skills (e.g. games, crafts, gadgets), supplies for handwriting development (e.g. specialized paper, pencil grips, writing tools), and visual perceptual activities (e.g. puzzles, mazes, visual games).

There is no set formula in school OT to address limitations a child may have. Each child must be seen, evaluated, and worked with as an individual. Therapy is more effective if time is taken to get to know the child, to explore how they learn best and what is relevant to them, and  to regularly reassess what is working and what is not.

OT sessions usually begin with a brief series of physical activities according to a child's needs:
e.g. weight-bearing sequences (for sensory, core strength, and/or fine motor needs), yoga or breathing sequences (for sensory and/or attention needs), trampoline or ball activities (for "alerting" needs), sensory swing or ball squishes (for "calming" needs)
The remainder of the session focuses on the particular performance area(s) each child requires. The goal of OT, is to try to find an individually relevant way to address these areas.

School OT sessions can be conducted one-on-one or in a small group, depending on scheduling and individual/peer group needs. School OT can also work in larger group settings, e.g. conducting regular fine motor activities in preschool and kindergarten classrooms to help develop fine motor skills and identify students who may be having trouble. 

OT's work with special education teachers, support services staff, and classroom teachers to try and identify, evaluate, and support children who may be having trouble in school, in academic and nonacademic areas.

Note - When concerns arise, areas to explore and address first:
• Sleep
• Nutrition
• Vision/Hearing
• Child's previous experience in specific skills/environment