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What exactly is Occupational Therapy? What do OTs DO?

Ha! I’ve been an OT for over 20 years, and this is one of the most common questions I get.  Considering the many different roles and areas that an OT can work in, it is not surprising that people get confused about what OT is or what an OT might do.  Occupational therapists work with people of all different ages.  So you might have an OT who works with your three year old child  on play skills.  But your neighbour remembers an OT working with their child with handwriting when they were at school.  Another friend’s elderly father had an OT assist their Dad after their stroke, helping him get back home and living independently….and the list will go on.

In short, Occupational Therapists help people with their occupations.  We take a broad view of occupation so it’s not just your job, it’s anything that you do, or want to do, that occupies you.  What on OT does is work with people about what is important for them to do.

An OT helps by looking at why the important thing you want to do is difficult. Then they assist through strategies, instruction, equipment and changing the task to make it easier.  Here’s an example:

Jo is a young woman who wants to be more independent at home.  However, Jo has cerebral palsy, and the muscles in her hands and arms are weak, and she finds it tiring to do everyday tasks.  Jo also has an intellectual disability and she finds problem solving difficult.  Jo’s OT assists her by working on cooking with her. In the cooking sessions, Jo’s OT provides her with some equipment that makes some of the tasks easier to do – like a cook chop food mill that makes chopping hard food a bit easier.  They also practice some skills that build Jo’s hand strength – like grating food,  the OT finds recipes that need some food grated to give Jo the practice.  The OT also helps Jo to adapt the recipes she’s cooking, so that the steps are broken down and the recipe language is simplified, that way Jo is able to follow them a bit easier.  Jo has gone from not cooking any of her own food, to making an omlette for breakfast – she’s well on her way to being more independent at home with the help of her OT!

The NDIS will often fund Occupational Therapy for people through their Improved Daily Living funding.  The aim is to assist the person to build capacity to do the things that they want to everyday.

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