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What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapists (OTs) and Certified Occupational Therapy Assistants (COTAs) are healthcare professionals who help individuals of all ages - from infants to seniors - gain, regain, or maintain the ability to participate in daily life. Occupational therapy can help people who have difficulty participating in daily life due to congenital or developmental problems, illness, injury, or the aging process.

The main areas of focus in occupational therapy are the following:

· Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) - bathing, toileting, dressing, feeding, functional mobility, grooming, etc.

· Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) - caring for children and pets, driving, cooking, financial and health management, safety, etc.

· Rest and Sleep - including sleep routines

· Education – formal and informal education including schooling from pre-school through higher-level education.

· Work - employment interest, acquisition, performance, and volunteering.

· Play - a spontaneous or organized activity that provides enjoyment or entertainment. These can include exploration play, pretend play, games with rules, play with others or alone, etc.

· Leisure - any nonobligatory activity that is intrinsically motivating. These can include sports, games, hobbies, past-times, etc.

· Social Participation - in a community, within a family, or with peers and friends.

Difficulty participating in any of these areas can arise from deficits in physical, cognitive, neurological, emotional, relational, or sensory systems. Occupational therapists will use a variety of approaches to treat the root of the difficulties in order to maximize safety and independence for each individual.

What You and Your Loved One Can Expect with Occupational Therapy

In most situations, you will need a referral from your family member’s primary care physician (PCP) for an evaluation of their skills in the areas listed above. At your initial evaluation, the OT will obtain background information including a medical, developmental, and academic history (as appropriate given age), and obtain an understanding of your and/or the patient’s concerns. Based on this information your OT will administer a formal or informal assessment with you and/or your loved one. Formal assessments have the benefit of providing standardized scores based on research-driven data. Non-standardized testing does not provide standardized scores but can be interpreted based on criterion-referenced data and skilled clinical judgment. Both provide information that is used to help determine areas of need. After the formal and non-standardized assessments are administered, the OT will discuss the results and create a Plan of Care including long-term and short-term goals, suggested interventions, and frequency of treatment. At this time, an OT can also do an environmental assessment and recommend modifications, adaptive equipment, and other strategies to promote safety and independence given the present limitations.

You, as the caregiver, and the patient will be involved in creating this Plan of Care. Long-term goals are the ‘big’ overall goals for the therapy to address. Short-term goals are ‘how’ the long-term goals will be achieved. Your occupational therapist will be available for questions from you at any point during this process. Once the Plan of Care (POC) is established and approved by the PCP, therapy can begin. There is a wide variety of types of therapy dependent on skills that need to be addressed. For children, most therapy is play-based and should aim to include you as the caregiver actively. For adults, therapy may include physical and mental exercise, adaptations, equipment recommendations, etc. Each session will target goals directly from the POC. Play activities may often look like things you already do in your home during playtime; your occupational therapist will explain which goals these play activities address. Your OT will provide suggestions for activities that you and your family can do at home to reinforce the skills the patient is learning in therapy. Your therapist is only with your family for a short period of time each week; participating in carryover activities at home can drastically improve therapy outcomes. Your OT can also consult with outside providers to assist with equipment evaluations including wheelchairs, shower chairs, splints, etc. They can consult with other community and health providers, teachers, and others involved in you and/or your loved one’s care to ensure improvements across all areas of occupations. It is often difficult to determine just how long occupational therapy will need to continue. It depends on a variety of factors and the individual’s needs. While occupational therapy provides the tools your loved one needs to improve impaired or delayed skills, it is not a “magic cure” and improvements can take weeks, months, and sometimes years.

For more information about occupational therapy and occupational therapy programs, contact About Kids Home Health Care, a community comprised of caring clinicians who are devoted to patients and their families, and to unparalleled services.

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