What does Occupational Therapy do?
Here, at New Approaches, occupational therapy works primarily on strategies to address difficulties with brain function. However, Occupational Therapists (OTs) work in many settings and do many things. Common therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, physical injury rehabilitation and treating older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.
Many people do not realize all the things an Occupational Therapist does. In a hospital setting, the OT works with patients who have had broken bones, surgeries or neurological impairments from a stroke, Multiple Sclerosis or any other disease. OTs are the professionals in the building who get you going. They work on helping you become independent again, being able to dress yourself, take yourself to the bathroom and shower yourself so you can go home as soon as possible.
In a rehabilitation setting such as a Skilled Nursing Rehab Center or an Acute Care Rehab Center, OTs do all the above, but in greater depth. In this setting, the OT might also address cooking, household management like laundry, cleaning and dishes, help work on how bills will be paid and address whether you are going to drive right away or not. An OT will prepare you for returning home when you’re still not 100% so things like how will you get around the kitchen, reach things in cupboards, meal plan, grocery shop and get from point A to point B, if you can’t drive right away are all areas the OT will address. The OT might even make a visit to your home with you to try your skills in your personal environment. Then the OT will make recommendations on equipment or modification that will need to be made to your home so you can be functionally independent and safe.
In an outpatient clinic, the OT might do all the things mentioned, and may also be a hand therapist. The OT who specializes in hand therapy typically, treats from the elbow down. Some hand therapists are Certified Hand Therapists meaning they have many hours of extra training in hands and have passed a certification exam. The therapist in the clinic will be able to treat all diagnoses having to do with the hand such as burns, Carpal Tunnel, Tennis Elbow, tendon repair, fractures and many other injuries to the hand and forearm. Many Occupational Therapists can do splinting or fit a prefabricated splint to help your arm/hand heal and move correctly. The OT will work on increasing Range of Motion, strengthening and fine motor coordination.
In a pediatric clinic, the OT focuses on the developmental milestones of the children. If a child is having difficulty reaching these milestones, the OT will work with the child and the parents to help get things on track. Diagnoses that might interfere with childhood development can be anything from Cerebral Palsy to Autism or ADHD. The OT will determine what might best help the child reach the developmental milestones he/she should be at and then find a way to assist the child; this is usually done through play. The OT might address the child’s ability to feed himself, dress himself, stay focused on a task to allow task completion, fine motor skills and sensory overload or underload; just to name a few.
In a school setting, the OT focus is learning and anything that interferes with the child’s ability to learn in the classroom or fit in socially with his/her peers. In a school setting the OT will always work with the interdisciplinary team to come up with an individualized plan for each child. The OT will then work with the child directly, with the child’s teacher so goals can be addressed in the classroom and with the child’s parents for carryover at home. The OT might work with fine motor coordination for handwriting, coloring or scissor use. The OT might work on the environment of the classroom, where the child sits, providing fidget toys or addressing other sensory needs such as a cushioned seat. The OT also works on positioning if the child is having difficulty sitting upright or is in a wheelchair.
As you can see, OTs do many things and work in many different places. However, no matter where you find the OT, the goal is always to help people achieve independence and dignity in their daily life. This can be done through correcting the issues through rehabilitation or by working around the issue and learning a new way with adaptive equipment or by adapting the environment.