How do we spend our time? What do we do? If you stopped to make a list of the activities you engage in on a typical day, you would soon run out of space on the page. From switching off your alarm in the morning to brushing your teeth at night, life is just packed full of “occupations”. We put on clothes, tie shoes, open jars, water the garden, roll chapatties, clean rice, turn the pages of a book, operate a computer, drive a car…
For people with mental and physical handicaps, however, the simple activities we do without thinking may be too complicated to accomplish. For people whose fine motor skills are poorly developed, buttoning a shirt may not be possible. People with sensory problems may not be able to protect themselves from things that are painful, too hot or too cold. People with perceptual difficulties may not be able to realize when the glass of milk they are pouring is about to overflow. All of them need the help of an Occupational Therapist.
Occupational therapy involves meaningful therapeutic activities and exercises, designed to help people with sensory, motor and perceptual problems function as independently as possible in their own environment: home, school, workplace.
An occupational therapist generally focuses on developing fine motor skills and on processing information gained from the senses (i.e. sight, hearing, touch and movement).
An occupational therapist will advise persons/parents on ways to adapt the environment so the handicapped person can function most effectively. She may recommend special cups, spoons or plates to make eating and drinking easier; she may advise Velcro closures for shirts rather than buttons; she may suggest changing the handles on cupboards and drawers to make them easier to grasp… the possibilities are endless.
Occupational therapy is an innovative field which requires a perceptive and observant mind along with an ability to think “outside the lines”. A good OT puts herself in her person’s skin and walks through his day, finding out what he wants/needs to do and then comes up with ways to make as much of it as possible actually happen.