therapists help patients improve their ability to perform tasks in living
and working environments. They work with individuals who suffer from a
mentally, physically, developmentally, or emotionally disabling condition.
Occupational therapists use treatments to develop, recover, or maintain the
daily living and work skills of their patients. The therapist helps clients
not only to improve their basic motor functions and reasoning abilities,
but also to compensate for permanent loss of function. The goal is to help
clients have independent, productive, and satisfying lives.
Occupational therapists help clients to perform all types of
activities, from using a computer to caring for daily needs such as
dressing, cooking, and eating. Physical exercises may be used to increase
strength and dexterity, while other activities may be chosen to improve
visual acuity or the ability to discern patterns. For example, a client
with short-term memory loss might be encouraged to make lists to aid
recall, and a person with coordination problems might be assigned exercises
to improve hand-eye coordination. Occupational therapists also use computer
programs to help clients improve decision-making, abstract-reasoning,
problem-solving, and perceptual skills, as well as memory, sequencing, and
coordination -- all of which are important for independent living.
Patients with permanent disabilities, such as spinal cord
injuries, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, often need special
instruction to master certain daily tasks. For these individuals,
therapists demonstrate the use of adaptive equipment, including
wheelchairs, orthoses, eating aids, and dressing aids. They also design or
build special equipment needed at home or at work, including computer-aided
adaptive equipment. They teach clients how to use the equipment to improve
communication and control various situations in their environment.
Some occupational therapists treat individuals whose ability
to function in a work environment has been impaired. These practitioners
might arrange employment, evaluate the work space, plan work activities,
and assess the client's progress. Therapists also may collaborate with the
client and the employer to modify the work environment so that the client
can successfully complete the work.
Assessing and recording a client's activities and progress
is an important part of an occupational therapist's job. Accurate records
are essential for evaluating clients, for billing, and for reporting to
physicians and other health care providers.
Occupational therapists may work exclusively with
individuals in a particular age group or with a particular disability. In
schools, for example, they evaluate children's capabilities, recommend and
provide therapy, modify classroom equipment, and help children participate
in school activities. A therapist may work with children individually, lead
small groups in the classroom, consult with a teacher, or serve on an
administrative committee. Some therapists provide early intervention
therapy to infants and toddlers who have, or are at risk of having,
developmental delays. Therapies may include facilitating the use of the
hands and promoting skills for listening, following directions, social
play, dressing, or grooming.
Other occupational therapists work with elderly patients.
These therapists help the elderly lead more productive, active, and
independent lives through a variety of methods. Therapists with specialized
training in driver rehabilitation assess an individual's ability to drive
using both clinical and on-the-road tests. The evaluations allow the
therapist to make recommendations for adaptive equipment, training to
prolong driving independence, and alternative transportation options.
Occupational therapists also work with clients to assess their homes for
hazards and to identify environmental factors that contribute to falls.
Occupational therapists in mental health settings treat
individuals who are mentally ill, developmentally challenged, or
emotionally disturbed. To treat these problems, therapists choose
activities that help people learn to engage in and cope with daily life.
Activities might include time management skills, budgeting, shopping,
homemaking, and the use of public transportation. Occupational therapists
also work with individuals who are dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse,
depression, eating disorders, or stress-related disorders.
Note: Some resources in this section are provided by the US
Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor