What is Occupational Therapy?
Ten-year-old Jason was in an accident while riding on his
bicycle. Although he survived the accident, it left him with a
brain injury. To improve some of his cognitive (thinking) skills,
comprehension skills, and coordination, Jason's doctors
recommended that he receive occupational therapy (OT).
At first, his parents were slightly skeptical about whether
occupational therapy could benefit their son. They had never heard
of OT and wondered if it was more appropriate for adults. But after
watching the activities and Jason's improvements, his parents
felt hopeful that Jason was on the road to recovery.
Occupational therapy - a treatment that focuses on helping
people achieve independence in all areas of their lives - can offer
kids with various needs positive, fun activities to improve their
cognitive, physical, and motor skills and enhance their
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 an occupational
therapist can evaluate a child's skills for play activities,
school performance, and activities of daily living and compare them
with what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association
(AOTA), in addition to dealing with an individual's physical
well-being, OT practitioners address psychological, social, and
environmental factors that may hinder an individual's
functioning in different ways. This unique approach makes
occupational therapy a vital part of health care for some kids.
Who Might Need Occupational Therapy?
So who might use an occupational therapy practitioner? According
to AOTA, kids with the following medical problems may benefit from
One of the activities that occupational therapists can address
to meet children's needs is working on fine motor skills so
that kids can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting
skills. Occupational therapists also address hand-eye coordination
to improve play skills, such as hitting a target, batting a ball,
or copying from a blackboard.
An occupational therapist can also:
- help kids with severe developmental delays learn some basic
tasks, such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing their teeth,
and feeding themselves
- help kids with behavioral disorders learn anger-management
techniques (i.e., instead of hitting others or acting out, the
children would learn positive ways to deal with anger, such as
writing about feelings or participating in a physical
- teach kids with physical disabilities the coordination skills
required to feed themselves, use a computer, or increase the
speed and legibility of their handwriting
- evaluate each child's needs for
, such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing
devices, or communication aids
- work with kids who have sensory and attentional issues to
improve focus and social skills
How Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Differ
Although both types of therapy help kids improve the quality of
their lives, there are differences.
deals with the issues of pain, strength, joint range of motion,
endurance, and gross motor functioning, whereas occupational
therapy deals more with fine motor skills, visual-perceptual
skills, cognitive skills, and sensory-processing deficits.
Occupational Therapy Practitioners
There are two professional levels of occupational practice -
occupational therapist (OT) and occupational therapist
Since 2007, an occupational therapist (OT) is required to
complete a master's degree program. Before 2007, only a
bachelor's degree was required.
An occupational therapist assistant is only required to complete
an associate's degree program. OTAs are able to carry out
treatment plans developed by the occupational therapist but
can't complete evaluations.
All occupational therapy practitioners must complete supervised
fieldwork programs and pass a national certification examination.
Most states also require a license to practice and require
occupational therapy practitioners to take continuing education
classes throughout their careers to maintain that licensure.
Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings,
- rehabilitation centers
- mental health facilities
- private practices
- children's clinics
- nursing homes
Finding Care for Your Child
If you think your child may benefit from occupational therapy,
talk to your doctor, who can usually refer you to individual
specialists who are best suited to your child's condition. The
school nurse or guidance counselor also may be able to recommend
specialists based on your child's academic or social
You can also consult your local yellow pages or contact a nearby
hospital or rehabilitation center for referrals. A list of
specialists may also be available through your state's
occupational therapy association.
However you find an occupational therapist for your child, make
sure that your health insurance company covers the program you
Kimberly S. Pierson, OTR/L
Date reviewed: October 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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