Occupational Therapy

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Occupational therapy is a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation. The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists defines occupation to be everything people do to occupy themselves, including looking after themselves (self-care), enjoying life (leisure), and contributing to the social and economic fabric of their communities (work/productivity). The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable any person – regardless of injury, illness, disability or psychological dysfunction – to participate in the activities of everyday life.

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The role of an occupational therapist is to assist patients in developing or regaining skills important for independent functioning, health and well-being. The World Federation of Occupational Therapists identifies four key areas in the work of an occupational therapist. These are: assessment, planning, intervention, and cooperation.

  • Assessment: Initial and repeated assessments are an important aspect of the occupational therapy process. Assessments include the use of standardised procedures, interviews, observations in a variety of settings and consultation with significant people in the patient’s life.
  • Planning: Using the results of the assessment, a treatment plan is developed that takes into consideration the patient’s development stage, environment, habits and lifestyle preferences. The plan will also outline both the short and long-term aims of treatment.
  • Intervention: Intervention programs are designed to aid the performance of everyday tasks and are adapted according to the settings in which the person works, lives and socialises. Depending on what the patient’s specific limitation is, the occupational therapist may:
    • Teach new techniques to help the patient overcome their condition or disability, such as suggesting activities to prevent or minimise deformity of the patient’s hands after an injury
    • Adapt the material or equipment being used, such as recommending large push buttons on the telephone or special seating to help the patient sit up straight
    • Reduce environmental barriers, such as recommending wheelchair ramps or widening doorways in a patient’s home, work or social settings
  • Cooperation: Occupational therapists work alongside the patient, and where necessary, with families, caregivers and other professionals.

Where do occupational therapists work?

Occupation therapists may work in a variety of setting including hospitals, clinics, day and rehabilitation centres, nursing homes and schools. Many occupational therapists also work in private practice and as educators and consultants.

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Occupational therapy treatment covers several areas of performance. All treatment plans and therapy goals are created and implemented based on the person’s individual needs.

  • Fine motor skills, which relate to movement and dexterity of the small muscles in the hands and fingers
  • Gross motor skills, which cover movement  of the large muscles in the arms, legs and trunk
  • Visual motor skills, which refer to an inidividual’s movement based on the perception of visual information
  • Oral motor skills, which relate to movement of muscles in the mouth, lips, tongue and jaw, such as sucking, chewing and licking.
  • Self-care skills, such as daily dressing, feeding and toileting tasks
  • Sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort and respond to the information we receive from the world
  • Motor planning skills, which refers to the ability to plan, implement and sequence motor tasks
  • Neuromotor skills, which are the underlying building blocks of muscle strength, muscle tonicity, postural mechanisms and reflex integration
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