What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a domain of allied health care that evaluates and intervenes to assist individuals suffering from conditions that hinder their performance of productive activities. These include the activities of daily life, self-care, leisure activities, and activities contributed as an active member of society. It provides support to individuals tackling physical, psychological, and social problems, preventing them from enjoying their life to the fullest.

Occupational therapy is, therefore, a holistic approach that not only caters to the impairment but also focuses on all aspects of the lives affected by the said impairment. It includes domains such as wellness promotion, rehabilitation, and habilitation. 

Activities catered by occupational therapy?

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), occupation defines as any meaningful activity a person engages in to “occupy” their time. Meaning all purposeful, goal-directed, task-oriented, culturally relevant, and community-oriented activities stand for an occupation. 


The term Activities of Daily Living (ADL) includes tasks that are not only necessary on personal grounds but are considered essential for social participation.

Examples of ADLs include eating, feeding, bathing, showering, toileting, maintaining toilet hygiene, dressing, functional mobility, grooming, and sexual activity, etc. 


Role of Occupational Therapy in children?

Occupational therapists work with children of all ages in various settings such as schools, clinics, homes, hospitals, and the community. The practice of this modality here is two tired and involves the participation of the parents as well to ensure effective therapeutic outcomes. The children are assessed on their occupational performance in areas of feeding, playing, learning, socializing, daily living skills, or attending school. Occupational therapists also take account of the strengths and weaknesses in various skills portrayed by the children, which may be physical, cognitive, or emotional.

While devising a therapy plan, occupational therapists engage and involve parents, caregivers, teachers, or the children themselves, for setting relevant functional goals. Early intervention produces maximum beneficial outcomes in all settings.

Children that benefit most from occupational therapy include:

  • Infants with birth injuries or birth-defects,
  • Children with sensory processing disorders,
  • Children with a history of traumatic injuries to the brain or spinal cord,
  • Children facing difficulty in learning,
  • Children with autism,
  • Children suffering from Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis,
  • Children showing mental health or behavioral problems,
  • Children with delayed developmental milestones,
  • Children with traumatic amputations,
  • Children battling cancers,
  • and, a child suffering from chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy, etc. 


Occupational Therapy in children can drastically change their performance at school, social circle, and home, alongside boosting their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. Some roles played by an occupational therapist in the pediatric population include:


  • Assisting them in mastering Basic life skills such as maintaining personal hygiene, self-feeding, using toilet and grooming.
  • Helping them learns how to process both positive and negative emotions, such as anger management programs, etc. 
  • Strengthening Fine motor skills to improve skilled hand functions such as writing, using computers, or doing creative artwork, etc.
  • Improving the hand-eye coordination that substantially affects their focus in carrying out complex skills.
  • Prescribing special equipment and tools that build confidence and independence in children with disabilities. These include wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, and communication aids.


Role of occupational therapy in the elderly and adult population?

Occupational therapists pay special attention to complaints that arise with aging, such as loss of physical strength and ailments secondary to aging. The goal of occupational therapy in the geriatric population is to ensure that they can maintain their independence and health with the limited need for hospitalization and institutionalization. Occupational therapists also provide their services to the elderly at home as a part of home care. In this setting, they recommend appropriate adjustments and modifications to make the elderly more comfortable and safer. Such as the installation of devices that prevent falls and maximizes their safe movement inside the house. It is of unique importance in patients with dementia, that need additional support to carry out activities of daily life.

Following individuals of both adult and elderly population can significantly benefit from occupational therapy:

  • Individuals with arthritis and chronic pain complaints,
  • Individuals post-stroke, or with brain or spinal cord injury,
  • Individuals with joint replacements,
  • Individuals with low vision,
  • Alzheimer patients,
  • Individuals with mental health or behavior issues,
  • and individuals suffering from chronic illness such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cerebral palsy, etc.


 Professionals that provide occupational therapy? 

Occupational therapists are qualified graduates that practice after passing a licensing exam. They often collaborate with other professionals to form a multidisciplinary team to maximize the potential of the therapy. Frequently collaborated professions include assistive technology, rehabilitation, nursing, social work, clinical psychology, and medicine, etc.

Where can you receive occupational therapy?

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, occupational therapists work in a wide-variety of practice settings including:

  • hospitals (26.6%),
  • schools (19.9%),
  • long term care facilities/skilled nursing facilities (19.2%),
  • free-standing outpatient (10.7%),
  • home health (6.8%).


Other settings are Rehab centers, private practice offices, prisons, corporate offices, and industrial workplaces, etc.

Dr. Anique Ali


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