What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapists work in many different settings:
  • Schools
  • State institutions for the developmentally disabled  
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Hospitals  
  • Day habilitation programs
  • Home care
  • Head Start programs  
  • Shelters for the homeless
  • Prisons
  • Nursing homes
  • Assisted  living residences   
  • Community mental health clinics
  • Early intervention
  • Neonatal care units

©2008 Barbara Smith               

The professional health care
resource for occupational therapists

Writing and Marketing Occupational Therapy books

Occupational therapists (O.T. s) are trained in the art and science of helping
disabled individuals to increase function and be as independent as possible.
Function refers to the ability to perform self care skills such as dressing and
preparing a meal, a job such as driving a truck, a role such as mother or
participate in a recreational pursuit such as knitting. O.T.'s address Activities
Daily Living (ADL's) such as these to improve cognitive, motor, emotional
and social skills. Other examples of ADL's include playing during school
recess, managing diabetes injections, preparing a resume and  traveling
safely in the community.

tightrope     painter   feedingbaby   driller  backpacker

Patients may have lost function due to an injury, disease or illness or have
been born with a disabling condition such as a missing limb, cerebral  palsy
or a genetic disorder such as Downs syndrome. One of the major differences
between occupational therapists and other rehabilitation professionals is that
O.T.'s primarily use activities to improve function. A therapist might
recommend balance activities and games so that the the tight rope walker
can get back to work in the circus. Someone who needs to strengthen the
shoulders might benefit from painting on an easel. A grandmother who
neglects one arm after a stroke might enjoy taking care of a baby in a way
which encourages the use of both hands.

Sometimes O.T.s adapt activities. Perhaps this construction worker needs to
wear hand splints that will make it easier to hold onto the drill.
Treatment might
involve a simulation such as a steering wheel with a computer generated road
to improve driving skills, but often treatment takes place in the natural
environment such as when a group of troubled teens take a backpacking
trip together.

Pediatric Occupational Therapy  

Occupational therapists work with children to help them to perform skills
necessary for learning (i.e. discriminating shapes and letters) and
 independence (i.e. grasping a spoon or buttoning a sweater) and since
one of the main "jobs" of young children is to play, therapists often
focus on play activities to teach motor, cognitive and social skills. A
huge role of the therapist is to teach the child's caretakers to carryover
the treatment so that in she or he benefits all day and even all night.
For example, parents may learn that a heavy, tight fitting sleeping bag
calms a child and promotes a good night's sleep or that using an
angled spoon makes it easier for their child to bring the food inside
the mouth.


gluing airplane         schoolbus      pettingturtle
Occupational therapists who work in Early Intervention programs help
clients as young as a
few days to age three years. At age three children
may be eligible for special education services including occupational
therapy through the community's school system. So far all of these
services are free regardless of income. However, some caregivers choose
to supplement therapy provided by the school system with treatment in
a clinic and this is often paid for by insurance companies.

The majority of children who receive O.T. services in the school system
have fine motor
delays and often also have learning disabilities. Some of
these children may have an Attention
Deficit Disorder, as well, that interferes
with the abilities to attend to fine-motor tasks such
as writing and cutting
shapes. A smaller number of children may have a more complicated
such as autism, Downs Syndrome or a severe physical disability. The current

philosophy is that children with disabilities benefit from being integrated into
a mainstream
classroom as much as possible. However, some parents choose
to place their children in
schools which service only special populations.
Occupational therapists work in these
schools, too, where the children have
intensive therapeutic needs. 

We all have Sensory Needs     

All human beings need sensory stimulation. The term sensory refers to our
abilities to take
in information from the environment from our sense organs-
eyes, ears, nose, skin, taste buds,
muscles and inner ears to sense
movement.  A person in a prison, orphanage or other
institution who is
deprived of sensory stimulation may start to provide her own stimulation
rocking, biting or humming.  So you can see how normal sensory
stimulation is critical to our
well being and development. 

Parents and teachers may notice that their child reacts differently to sensory
stimulation than
other children do. The child might  cry when touched, rock or
spin excessively, avoid fast
movement, crash into pillows or other children
more than most, be picky eaters, hate new
smells or munch on their shirt
collar. Some seem to crave certain stimulation or avoid  activities
that most
children enjoy. We adults also have sensory needs and find  ways to fill them

perhaps by roller skating, racing cars, watching action movies, eating spicy
foods, smoking,
chewing gum, swinging in a hammock, twirling a pencil or
biting one's nails. Most of us are
pretty functional despite our weird habits.
But children whose sensory needs interfere with their
abilities to learn,
develop motor skills and socialize may have
Dysfunction in Sensory Integration

Visit the state Occupational Therapy Associations for more information.

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