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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Statistics.