What Is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy (OT) is a branch of health care that helps people of all ages who have physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. OT can help them regain independence in all areas of their lives.
Occupational therapists address barriers that affect a person's emotional, social, and physical needs. To do this, they use everyday activities, exercises, and other therapeutic approaches.
OT helps kids play, improves their school performance, and aids their daily activities. It also boosts their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. With OT, kids can:
- Develop fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting or computer skills.
- Improve eye–hand coordination so they can play and do needed school skills such as bat a ball and copy from a blackboard.
- Master basic life skills such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and self-feeding.
- Learn positive behaviors and social skills by practicing how they manage frustration and anger.
- Get special equipment to help build their independence. These include wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, and communication aids.
Who Might Need Occupational Therapy?
OT can help kids and teens who have:
- birth injuries or birth defects
- sensory processing disorders
- traumatic injuries to the brain or spinal cord
- learning problems
- juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- mental health or behavioral problems
- broken bones or other orthopedic injuries
- developmental delays
- post-surgical conditions
- spina bifida
- traumatic amputations
- severe hand injuries
- multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other chronic illnesses
How Do Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Differ?
Physical therapy and occupational therapy both help improve kids' quality of life, but there are differences. Physical therapy (PT) helps with:
- joint range of motion
- gross motor skills (large-muscle movements made with the arms, legs, feet, or entire body)
Occupational therapy helps with:
- fine motor skills (small-muscle movements made with the hands, fingers, and toes, such as grasping)
- visual-perceptual skills
- cognitive (thinking) skills
- sensory-processing problems
Who Does Occupational Therapy?
The two professional levels of occupational practice are:
- Occupational therapist (OT): An OT has a 4-year bachelor's degree in a related field (such as biology, psychology, or health science) and a master's degree from an accredited occupational therapy program.
- Occupational therapist assistant (OTA): An OTA has an associate's degree from an accredited OTA program. They can carry out treatment plans developed by an OT but can't do patient evaluations.
OTs and OTAs must complete supervised fieldwork programs and pass a national certification exam. A license to practice is mandatory in most states, as are continuing education classes.
Where Do OTs Work?
Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including:
- rehabilitation centers
- mental health facilities
- private practices
- children's clinics
- nursing homes
How Can We Find an Occupational Therapist?
If you think occupational therapy could help your child, you can:
- Ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist.
- Talk to the school nurse or guidance counselor. They might be able to recommend someone based on your child's academic or social needs.
- Contact a nearby hospital or rehabilitation center for referrals.
- Visit The American Occupational Therapy Association website to find your state's occupational therapy association.