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Occupational Therapy Frequently Asked Questions
By an allied health world contributing writer
Published: January, 19 2010
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What professional organizations exist for occupational therapists?The American Occupational Therapy Association is the professional body that oversees standards and ensures the viability of the profession. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy is primarily designed to protect the consumer and the public. This group administers the certification exam and monitors certified individuals to ensure continuing education credits are completed and that they haven’t committed a crime or had a complaint filed against them.
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How often does a client usually see an OT?The amount of times a client needs to see an occupational therapist varies greatly based on what the client’s age is, what his or her functional needs are, what his or her goals are. Therefore the frequency and duration of treatment is really dependent on how severe the disability is and what type of treatment needs to be done.
What are common questions occupational therapists ask new clients to better understand their symptoms/situation?One of the first questions asked of a new client is, “What are your goals?” Other questions include, “What do you want your primary focus to be in therapy?”, “What life activities were you engaged in prior to your disability?”, “What types of activities would you like to be able to engage in for the future?” Once they are able to understand what the client is looking to gain from therapy, the therapist can target the interventions appropriately.
What types of equipment do occupational therapists use?Occupational therapists use exercise equipment and adaptive equipment to help individuals with disabilities perform certain activities. Adaptive devices or equipment can include the following:
- Sock grabber
- Long handled sponge
- Long handled shoe horn
- Elastic shoelaces for people who can’t tie their shoes
- Universal cuff that a spoon goes in for people who can’t hold their spoon to eat
- Weighted vest
- Pencil grip or adapted scissors
- Slant board, ruled paper with tactile and visual cues
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In occupational therapy, what areas are assessed to determine progress with clients?Occupational therapists place heavy emphasis on assessing the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) and the Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs). ADLs consist of basic self-care activities including feeding oneself, bathing oneself, going to the bathroom, dressing oneself, grooming and hygiene activities. IADLs include activities such as cooking, cleaning, making a meal, paying bills, and making a grocery list. With every session an OT assesses the ADLs and IADLs to determine what type of progress the client is making. If one method of intervention isn’t working to improve these activities, an occupational therapist must be creative in coming up with a different method.
How do occupational therapists work with physical therapists?Generally, occupational therapists and physical therapists work very closely, particularly when they are working with clients who have very comprehensive deficits that require the expertise of both therapists. Since both kinds of therapists have expertise in different areas they are able to come together as a team to address clients’ needs in a more holistic way.
The physical therapist is primarily focused on a client’s mobility and ability to move in his or her environment and regain muscle strength, postural control, and coordination. A physical therapist may focus on the client being able to walk independently and transfer from one surface to another. Oftentimes physical therapists use exercise programs in working with clients to rebuild strength. An occupational therapist also addresses the individual’s physical challenges by incorporating exercise and specialized interventions. However, the scope of an occupational therapist looks more broadly at how the impairment or disability impacts the individual’s ability to participate in life activities that are important or meaningful to him/her. The OT devises a plan to help these people become as independent as possible in taking care of themselves, managing their homes, getting to work or school, etc.
In a hospital setting, PTs and OTs may carry out co-treatments with stroke survivors. Each therapist focuses on different areas of the client’s disability but they track his/her function together. For example, the physical therapist may be working on helping the client to ambulate or walk independently whereas the occupational therapist may be working with that client to manage all aspects of the activities required for independent function. These may include moving around the kitchen to gather the necessary ingredients and tools to prepare a meal as well as hygiene and grooming activities like bathing, brushing teeth and hair, and getting dressed.
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What other types of professionals do occupational therapists work with?Oftentimes several members of the health care team in the medical setting come together to address the comprehensive needs of the client. The occupational therapist works very closely with team members to ensure all aspects of the client’s needs are addressed. In addition to physical therapists, occupational therapists also work with speech language pathologists, nurses, physicians, orthotists, and prosthetists. An orthotist is a professional who measures, designs, and fits an orthosis, which is a device used to correct a disability. A prosthetist is someone who measures, designs and fits a prosthesis, which is an artificial extension to replace a missing body part. For instance, someone who has been in a car accident and has had his or her leg amputated may opt to get a prosthetic leg so that he or she is able to walk.
In the school setting, the team often includes the general education and special education teacher, school psychologist, school nurse, speech-language pathologist, and other school personnel. In early intervention, the occupational therapist works very closely with the family, as well as a service coordinator, social worker, and other service providers.