Occupational therapists traditionally work with people of all ages in regaining or acquiring daily life skills for maximal independence. Mastery of life skills in the areas of self-care, work and play/leisure are the central focus of occupational therapy practitioners. As such, OT’s may work with an injured worker in a return-to-work program, an elderly person recovering basic self-care skills after a stroke, or in a school system with children needing to acquire skills for their education.
Children represent a unique challenge as their systems are still developing. Their primary goals are learning and applying basic concepts, interaction with peers and caregivers, integrating into societal systems such as school.
The role of occupational therapists with students is to enhance or adapt the learning environment of the classroom to maximize learning opportunities while removing barriers to learning as needed. Barriers may be physical such as an injury or something present at birth such cerebral palsy. Environmental barriers are also common and can include accessibility such as stairs, doorways, ramps, lighting or appropriate seating. The occupational therapist consults with the educational team to make the necessary changes to the classroom environment in order to improve access to the learning experience.
Outside the classroom, OT’s may be asked to be present in the home or in a private practice to work with children who have developmental delays or autism. In these settings, developmental milestones are addressed such as the progress from crawling to standing/walking, use of toys and play for learning and acquiring skills for mastery of basic movement and self-care.
Community members seeking OT services for their loved one or child should consult their physician, local healthcare organization, or educational district for a referral to an occupational therapist.