Who is an Occupational Therapist? The Role of Occupational Therapy

Who is an occupational therapist and how can they help? Let’s find out

 

Occupational therapy uses your daily activities to facilitate recovery from physical or mental illness. Occupational therapists are trained to help you complete necessary tasks at home, school, and work. They may also use assistive devices during your sessions to help you regain your independence. We have answers about who is an occupational therapist and the benefits of occupational therapy. Let’s begin!

Who is an Occupational Therapist?

An occupational therapist is a healthcare professional that specializes in therapeutically using daily activities. They treat injured, ill, and disabled patients and help them develop or recover the independence to perform their essential activities of daily living (ADLs). 

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

An occupational therapist helps children, teens, and adults master skills that they struggle to perform. With occupational therapy, persons can:

  • Master basic life skills like bathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and self-feeding.
  • Develop their fine motor skills to grasp and release items and master good handwriting and computer skills. 
  • Develop gross motor skills like balance and coordination.
  • Improve their eye-hand coordination so that they can play, complete school projects, and copy items from a blackboard. 
  • Learn positive behaviors and social skills by teaching them how to manage frustration and anger. 
  • Use assistive devices to increase their mobility and build their independence. These devices include wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, and communication aids. 

An occupational therapist works with people of all ages. However, the earlier a child starts occupational therapy, the more effective it will be. When children can complete basic tasks, it builds their self-esteem and confidence. Also, children who struggle with motor skills tend to be a bit uncoordinated, which puts them at the risk of being bullied. So anything that helps them become more coordinated is always welcome. 

What’s the Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?

Both forms of therapy seek to improve patients’ lives regardless of the differences in ages and lifestyles. However, they differ from each other in the following ways:

Physical therapy deals with:

  • Pain management
  • Strength building
  • Improving range of motion of joints in the body
  • Building endurance during physical activities
  • Enhancing gross motor skills (or large-muscle movements made with the arms, legs, feet, or your entire body)

However, occupational therapy addresses:

  • Improvement of fine motor skills (or small-muscle movements made with the hands, fingers, and toes)
  • Building visual-perceptual skills
  • Enhancing cognitive (thinking) skills
  • Managing sensory-processing problems

Occupational Therapy Professionals

The two professional levels in occupational therapy are:

Occupational Therapist: Possesses 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 Therapy Assistant (OTA): Has an associate’s degree from an accredited OTA program. They can perform treatment plans designed by an occupational therapist. However, they can not do patient evaluations. 

Both professions must complete supervised fieldwork programs and pass a national certification exam. Furthermore, most states require a license to practice, as well as continuing education classes. 

Occupational therapists and OTAs work in a variety of settings. These may include hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, private practices, and children’s clinics.

How Occupational Therapists Can Help Children With Specific Challenges

Let’s discuss the benefits of pediatric occupational therapy

 

Children with some disabilities often need occupational therapy. One condition that affects motor skills is developmental coordination disorder (or dyspraxia). There are several activities that an occupational therapist may use to improve a child’s skills.

One exercise to build fine motor skills is to have your child pick up items using tweezers. Hand-dominance can be improved by having children practice cutting things out with scissors. Gross motor skills are enhanced by having them perform activities like jumping jacks, catching balls of varying sizes, or running obstacle courses. 

Occupational therapy provides significant benefits for children who have sensory processing disabilities. When children struggle with processing sensory data input, they may overreact or underreact to things that they see, hear, smell, or touch. In these situations, the children either have meltdowns or become hyperactive. 

An occupational therapist may design a sensory diet for such children. This plain uses several physical activities and accommodations that are customized to give children the sensory input they need. Occupational therapists may also use heavy work to help children who seek or avoid certain kinds of sensory input. Occupational therapy may also help children with other challenges such as dyslexia, visual processing issues, executive functioning issues, and dysgraphia

Child and Teen Illnesses That May Benefit From Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy can help children and teens who have to deal with:

Conditions That Can Be Treated With Occupational Therapy

What are some of the conditions that can be treated with occupational therapy? Let’s find out:

Adult Health Conditions

Occupational therapy helps adults suffering from:

Amputations

Amputations are both physically and mentally challenging – especially if they experience ghost limbs. Performing daily tasks can be difficult and can negatively impact a patient’s emotional and mental health. 

Occupational therapists provide patients with vital interventions to help them recognize their health goals, analyze their progress, and make the necessary adjustments to achieve these goals. Some specialists offer prosthetics training to help amputees adjust easier. 

Depression and Anxiety

If you suffer from depression and anxiety, then an occupational therapist can help you. They will teach you vital self-awareness skills, pacing strategies, grading/evaluation activities, and targeted exercises. 

Arthritis 

Arthritis means stiff joints and difficulty moving, and that results in a lot of pain and discomfort. Occupational therapists help persons affected by arthritis by teaching them techniques to perform their daily activities without straining their joints. 

Brain Injury, Dementia, and Alzheimer’s

Brain injuries are often severe, and recovery takes a lot of time – from a few months to years. Occupational therapy helps patients regain the ability to complete their activities of daily living (ADLs). They use special exercises that help form pathways between a patient’s brain and limbs. These techniques are useful in helping patients with dementia and Alzheimer’s remember things by forming mental connections

Burns

Burn victims often require both physical therapy and occupational therapy. Occupational therapy can help burn victims reduce any pain during movements and relearn the functions that their brains may have forgotten due to a lack of use. Furthermore, such patients complete their sessions in a safe and monitored environment to prevent any injuries. 

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by the overuse of your fingers, wrists, hands, and forearms. Occupational therapy is often recommended after carpal tunnel surgery. But occupational therapy may also be used to avoid doing surgery. 

Occupational therapy treatments for carpal tunnel syndrome include splinting of the affected area, exercises, and massages to alleviate pain and swelling. However, you should note that post-surgery treatments will vary. They may include mild exercises, flexing, stretching, strength training, and joint stabilization. 

Dupuytren’s Contracture

Dupuytren’s contracture is a progressive fibro-proliferative disease that affects your hand and causes permanent flexion and contracture of your fingers. Occupational therapists will often recommend exercises that will help increase the range of motion in your fingers and hands. 

The other muscle-related conditions that can be treated with occupational therapy: 

Childhood and Teen Health Conditions

Let’s discuss the impact of occupational therapy on child and teen health conditions

 

Occupational therapy can also improve the quality of life and wellbeing of children and teenagers with the following health conditions:

Asperger’s Syndrome

Asperger’s Syndrome is usually diagnosed in children by age 3, while it may be detected as early as infancy. Occupational therapy helps children by reinforcing their motor skills and also with sensory integration problems. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Children with ADHD often have problems regulating, prioritizing, switching attention, and remaining focused. Occupational therapists use sensory integration therapy to develop a child’s sensory processing abilities as well as reorient and strengthen their entire sensory system.  

Autism

Autistic children usually have difficulties communicating and interacting with other people. An occupational therapist will study a child’s environment and work with parents and teachers to design customized exercises that cater to his/her unique needs. These exercises aim to improve the child’s attention span, play skills, attentive transition, response to stimuli, and interactions with others. 

Cerebral Palsy

Children with cerebral palsy can benefit a lot from occupational therapy. Their sessions focus on increasing their motor function and lessening limitations. Occupational therapy helps to create pathways to performing daily tasks and effectively process and interpret sensory input.

Down’s Syndrome

Approximately one out of every 700 children are born with Down’s Syndrome each year in the USA. Occupational therapists are quite skilled at developing treatment programs for children with Down’s Syndrome. These exercises help them to learn fine motor skills like handwriting, keyboarding, and drawing, and to become more independent.

Some other conditions that may benefit from occupational therapy interventions include:

An occupational therapist accounts for all aspects of a patient’s physical, psychological, social, and environmental needs. This helps give patients hope and give them the prospect of developing and/or regaining their independence.

How Do I Find an Occupational Therapy Rehabilitation Program?

So who is an occupational therapist and how can they help you and your child have a better quality of life? The answer is clear. Are you looking for an occupational therapist in Shelton, CT? Then Moving With Hope is here for you! We have expert occupational therapists and other professionals who are willing to work with your existing medical team. So contact us today to get the support you need for your best rehabilitation.

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