Understanding the Role of Occupational Therapy


What is Occupational Therapy?

Successful participation in roles (e.g., as a student, friend or family member) and activities (e.g., sports, hobbies, using a computer or studying) leads to enhancement of emotional well-being, mental health, and social competence.


Occupational Therapy helps children with a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability be as competent and independent as possible in all their roles and activities. This enhances their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.


Some people may think that occupational therapy is only for adults; children, after all, do not have occupations. But a child's main job is playing and learning, and occupational therapists evaluate children' skills for playing, school performance, and daily activities and compare them with what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.


In addition, Occupational Therapists address psychological, social, and environmental factors that can affect functioning (roles and activities) in different ways.


Activity is also a way to connect with a child.


What is Activity (Occupational) Analysis?

Activity analysis breaks activities into physical, cognitive, interpersonal, social, behavioral and emotional demands made on the child; and forms an understanding of how these may be used effectively to develop and enhance a child’s skills.


The grading and adaptation of tasks and/or the environment provides the ‘just right challenge’ that ensures success and skill development.


What is an Occupation Based Intervention?

The Occupational Therapist, in collaboration with the child and his/her family determines the appropriate intervention for any problems identified. Selected activities (occupations) that have a purpose and meaning to the child are used for therapy.


This emphasis on doing as opposed to talking can frequently create a strong bond between the child and therapist that enables the child to openly acknowledge and discuss issues of concern. Therapy can provide a safe environment for problem solving.


What are the areas focused on in Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapists first assess the child’s functioning in various roles and activities. After assessment, following are some of the areas that may be focused on during occupational therapy. This depends on the needs of the child.

  • Help children work on fine motor skills so that they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting skills

  • Address hand–eye coordination to improve children' play and school skills (hitting a target, batting a ball, copying from a blackboard, etc.)

  • Help children with severe developmental delays learn basic tasks (such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and feeding themselves)

  • Help children with behavioral disorders maintain positive behaviors in all environments (e.g., instead of hitting others or acting out, using positive ways to deal with anger, such as writing about feelings or participating in a physical activity)

  • Teach children with physical disabilities the coordination skills needed to feed themselves, use a computer, or increase the speed and legibility of their handwriting

  • Evaluate a child's need for specialized equipment, such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, or communication aids

  • Work with children who have sensory and attentional issues to improve focus

  • Work with children to improve their social skills. Social competence for children and adolescents includes doing what is necessary to get along with others, making and keeping friends, coping with frustration and anger, solving problems, understanding social etiquette, and following school and social rules.


When is Occupational Therapy needed?

Children with the following problems are likely to benefit with Occupational Therapy

  • birth injuries or birth defects

  • sensory processing disorders

  • traumatic injuries (brain or spinal cord)

  • learning problems

  • autism/pervasive developmental disorders

  • juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

  • mental health or behavioral problems

  • broken bones or other orthopedic injuries

  • developmental delays

  • post-surgical conditions

  • burns

  • spina bifida

  • traumatic amputations

  • cancer

  • severe hand injuries

  • multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other chronic illnesses


How Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy differ?

Although both physical and occupational therapy help improve children' quality of life, there are differences. Physical therapy (PT) deals with pain, strength, joint range of motion, endurance, and gross motor functioning, whereas OT deals more with fine motor skills, visual-perceptual skills, cognitive skills, and sensory-processing deficits.

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