Occupational therapists offer hope to patients
by Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List
April is Occupational Therapy month, but I’ve learned that, like me, many people aren’t quite sure what exactly an occupational therapist does.
I was talking to a co-worker about this recently, and she wondered aloud if an occupational therapist is the same as a physical therapist. It was a good question. Turns out, the two specialties are very different.
An occupational therapist (OT) primarily focuses on evaluating and improving a person's functional abilities. A physical therapist treats medical conditions that limit a person's ability to perform everyday activities.
Whether it's working with someone who has a brain injury, a person with arthritis or a child with autism, an OT can customize treatment programs to improve a patient's ability to perform daily activities.
They can also evaluate home and work conditions, and offer guidance to family members about making environmental changes, like rearranging furniture, adjusting lighting or adding specialized equipment to accommodate a patient's needs and enhance their progress.
Angie's List member Wendy Manning of Ostrander, Ohio, sought the help of an OT after her concerns about her son's behavior failed to elicit answers from his pediatrician.
Manning says she always felt in her heart that her young son, Beau, had some developmental issues. Beau showed signs of a sensory processing disorder, Manning says, adding that her son had an aversion to eye contact, social situations, loud noises and new foods.
In the 15 months since he began seeing an OT, Beau, now 6, has shown tremendous improvement through playing "games" designed to reinforce the sensory integration skills he is being taught.
For example, Manning says, the therapist will get down on the floor at Beau's level and will work with him — through play — on following directions or on coordination skills.
"She has helped him become more confident because of this game-playing," says Manning, who admits she didn't know what to expect when she took her son to the OT.
"I was skeptical about it because they're just ... playing, but it has really built him up. He's gone from a child we thought was a little bit backward, to a child who is a highly-functioning kindergartner."
Manning says her son loves his therapist so much, that when he has big accomplishments — such as tying shoes or trying new foods — she's one of the first people he wants to call. "Even on her off hours, she's his cheerleader," Manning says.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, an OT can specialize in six broad areas of practice, including children and youth; health and wellness; mental health; productive aging; work and industry; and rehabilitation, disability and participation.
If you're considering going to an OT, it's important to find one who specializes in the area of practice that best fits your needs. You can use Angie's List to read reports about OTs in your area, helping you make an informed decision before you seek treatment.
And if you've had a great experience — or a bad one — with an OT, we want you to share it. Log in to your Angie's List account and submit a report. Your review just might make it easier for other members in need of an OT to find the right one for them.