As Occupational Therapists, we often get asked questions like
- “So you help people get back to work after an injury?
- “So, that’s kind of like a physiotherapist?”
- “So, that’s like Occupational Health and Safety?”
As Occupational Therapists, we get asked “What is Occupational Therapy” all the time – both professionally and personally. Sometimes it is really tricky to explain what we do as we all work in a variety of settings with different populations. However, when I do get the chance, I take the opportunity to educate the people around me about the wonderful job I get to do every day.
The definition of Occupational Therapy (OT)
According to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, Occupational Therapy is “a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement (WFOT 2012).
In other words, Occupational Therapists look at the “occupations” of a person. These “occupations” are daily activities which individuals want to, need to, or are expected to do. For individuals to participate and engage in these “occupations”, occupational therapists may provide the individual with knowledge and/or skills, modify the occupation, or modify the environment they are in.
An Occupational Therapist who works with children?
When I tell people I’m an occupational therapist who works with children, I often get some weird looks. Children don’t work. What do you do with children? What is a Paediatric Occupational Therapist?
As I mentioned before, “occupations” are daily activities which individuals want to, need to, or are expected to do. Occupations can also be defined as anything that ‘occupies time’. Using this definition, children have many different occupations! Children play. They learn. They eat. They learn to look after themselves – like going to the toilet, putting on clothes, tying their shoelaces. They ride bikes. They play with friends. Occupational therapists help children who might be having difficulty in these areas, whether they have a disability or not.
What areas can OTs work with children?
Occupational Therapists work in a variety of areas including:
- Fine Motor Skills. Fine motor skills are small muscle development in their hands required for handwriting, tying shoelaces and doing up buttons and zippers.
- Play and Social Skills. These skills are needed for social development with peers.
- Emotional Regulation i.e. how to control their emotions.
- Sensory Processing is an individual’s ability to receive, process, and respond to sensory information. Children with difficulties in sensory processing can display through behaviours such as running away, covering their ears in loud environments and talking loudly in class.
- Self-Care include activities which help with looking after oneself. These include toileting, dressing, and eating.
- Executive Functioning are cognitive skills such as maintaining attention in class, memory, problem solving and planning skills.
How can Occupational Therapy help my child?
Well, your Occupational Therapist might:
- Help your child develop their fine motor skill so they can open containers, button their shirts, tie their shoelaces, pick up objects, and pick up a pencil to draw and write.
- Help your child develop skills to socialise with others and develop friendships.
- Work with parents and/or teachers to offer strategies to best support their children at school at home.
- Look at reasons why your child might be behaving in certain ways
- Assess whether your child has sensory processing difficulties making it difficult for them to focus in the classroom
- Help build your child’s skill in attention in class, or planning and problem solving.
- Work together with parents on developing toileting skills
Do Occupational Therapists only work with children with disabilities?
No, Occupational Therapists can work with children with or without a diagnosis.