Hi I’m Ashleigh, and Occupational Therapist here at Therapy Playground.  And I’m Kim, I’m also an Occupational Therapist at Therapy Playground.

Today we’re going to discuss some of the commonly asked questions we get as Occupational Therapist.  The first one, “What is occupational therapy?”.

Occupational Therapy is a form of therapy that works with people to help improve their functional independence on activities of daily living.  That’s the “textbook definition”.  We help people to get better to do the things they have to do every day.

How about OT vs PT?

That’s a great question, especially working in the pediatric environment like we do, there can be a lot of overlap and similarities between occupational therapy and physical therapy.  But in general, OT vs PT, occupational therapy is going to work on again, those functional independent skills, helping people become better at feeding themselves, dressing themselves, navigating what they have to do during the day, as functional independent individuals.  Whether they have a hard time after an injury, recovering from that injury or that surgery, or as children developing these skills that there seems to be some obstacles.   Physical therapy is more working on the physical mobility of those things, navigating the persons environment, getting to and from where they need to go, while they’re doing what they need to do.

One of the questions I get most often is “Why does my child need OT if they don’t have a job?”.

People might laugh at that question, but it’s really not a bad question, and if you’re not familiar with what OT is, it makes sense, people hear “occupational therapy” and they think occupation, they think job.  Think of occupation in terms of your job of living.  OT helps you to be the best that you can at your job of living no matter what you have to do during that life.

What ages and diagnosis do occupational therapist work with?

Occupational therapist work from newborns up until people at the end of their life.  We can work with newborns in the NICU after they’re born with feeding difficulties or we can workwith toddlers and preschoolers learning to develop new skills, work with school-aged children, children who have
developmental challenges, children who are recovering from a broken arm, injury, or surgery.  We work with adults recovering from injuries or surgeries, and in the geriatric population again recovering from injury or illness.  So really yes, OTs work with newborns all the way to end of life.

Do OTs work with just handwriting?

Absolutely not.  Handwriting is a primary component of what pediatric occupational therapy do, because pediatric OTs tend to focus on functional hand skills and as a child, particularly a preschooler or school-aged child, OTs need to help most children how to write.  It’s just a huge component of what they do every day at home and the classroom.  But OTs can work on feeding, learning to help the children learn how to feed themselves, helping them learn how to dress themselves, helping them to learn how to improve visual motor skills, just basic play skills, manipulating tools and objects in their environment.

This is a question you’re going to ask later I think, but sensory concerns as well.  So there’s really a whole bunch more than just handwriting that OTs do. Now I know speech works with kiddos to address feeding but how exactly does OT address feeding? OTs can address feeding from kind of two different angles,
most common one is going to be getting the food from the table to the mouth. Helping children learn how to properly hold and manipulate tinsels, but there are some therapist who are trained in oral motor techniques that can help with the manipulation of the food to assist with swallowing.  The big difference is going to be speech are really going to do the swallowing and the oral part of it, but some OTs can overlap into that quite a bit if they’ve been trained to do oral motor techniques as well.

One big question, “How do I know if my kid has sensory issues?”.

Sensory issues is a very general thing, that can take a long time to talk about that, and that itself would be a great topic for a podcast in the future.  But basically in general terms, sensory issues means that a person, and not just a child, but a person is having a difficult time taking in, and processing and working with the stimulation they get from the environment.  All the things that you see, you hear, you touch, you feel, are sensory.  And if a person or a child is having a hard time dealing with those forms of input, it might look like they are having some behavioral challenges, it might look like they are avoiding the situation, or seeking out certain types of input that are maybe inappropriate or unsafe.  An OT can ask you some questions, a screening tool, a questionnaire to fill out, and kind of work with you to determine if the concerns you have for your child are related to sensory processing difficulties.

Along those same lines, “Do you think my child has autism?”.

OTs work a lot with children on the autism spectrum, and so “is my child autistic?” is a question that we do get often.  It’s important to remember that as an occupational therapist, we cannot diagnose with anything, especially a diagnosis of autism.  But what we can help you with is to determine if your child is showing signs or characteristics that are commonly seen in children that have autism spectrum disorders.  Remember that just because your child may show some sensory things, doesn’t mean necessarily that they have autism.  But we can help you work through some of those questions, those concerns, and lead you to the right professionals that can do diagnostic testing and confirm or deny the diagnosis of autism.

Well great, thank you for answering all these questions for us!  No problem. Thank you and having a great day!