Blog > September 2019 > Occupational Therapy for People With Disabilities

Occupational Therapy for People With Disabilities



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Occupational therapy is an important part of many disability and illness treatment protocols. Occupational therapy focusses on enhancing independence and capacity for everyday activities. It can help people with physical, sensory, or cognitive disabilities to find solutions to access and task limitations, improving their ability to take part in activities necessary to day-to-day life, and ultimately helping to improve their quality of life.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

While physiotherapy aims to improve pain, strength, mobility and gross motor function, occupational therapy focusses on fine motor skills, visual-perceptual skills, cognitive skills, and sensory-processing deficits. Occupational therapy is designed to help patients who struggle with the completion of everyday tasks like dressing, shopping, walking, or writing. Occupational therapists provide practical techniques that patients can use to maintain or improve independence in self-care, work or school, social, and leisure activities. Therapeutic intervention is less about the structural and medical concerns emphasised by other forms of therapy and more about lifestyle functionality.

Jay Cryo

The general aim of occupational therapy treatment is to improve patients’ quality of life by developing techniques and strategies to assist with the tasks that patients engage in during everyday life. Every patient has different wants, needs and expectations when it comes to achieving a positive occupational therapy result, and occupational therapists are trained to take this client variability into account when they are developing treatment programs.

One of the things that many patients enjoy about occupational therapy, as opposed to other forms of treatments, is that they are able to have significant control over their treatment path and purpose. Patients are encouraged to take an active role in the management of their illnesses or disabilities, and they are able to apply learned skills beyond the parameters of the treatment itself.

What to Expect from Occupational Therapy?

Due to its patient-driven approach, occupational therapy can be a very different experience from person to person. Treatment goals largely depend on the individual wants, hopes, and needs of the patient in question. Some patients may aim to improve their ability to complete household cleaning tasks, while others may be more interested in improving social, work or school capabilities. Patients can communicate with their therapist to formulate well-suited personal goals.

Occupational therapists can offer a wide range of strategies and equipment to assist with daily function. Some of the things an occupational therapist may be able to provide are:

  • Help with motor skill development or grip supports to improve handwriting, teeth-brushing, dressing and feeding abilities
  • Self-regulation and emotional management techniques for people with behavioural disorders
  • Advice to assist with social participation and confidence building
  • Pain and fatigue management strategies
  • Hand-eye coordination support with the aim of improving a patient’s ability to engage in sports, leisure, or school/work activities
  • Support to perform activities necessary to school, work, volunteer, or household maintenance responsibilities
  • Memory aids and tricks for those struggling with memory loss
  • Supports or advice to make driving possible
  • Specialised equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, or communication aids to improve a patient’s ability to complete everyday tasks and participate in society

Occupational therapists may also assist patients to return to activities they have discontinued. For example, a traumatic injury patient may seek occupational therapeutic help to facilitate an adapted return to work, or a child patient may be assisted to reengage with education after a long stint away from school. In these cases, an occupational therapist may be able to communicate with workplace and school access providers or recommend adaptive desk equipment, pacing strategies, or easy-to-carry school backpacks.

occupational-therapy-body.jpgWho Can Benefit From Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy can be beneficial to patients of all ages and levels of disability, though treatment outcomes may vary depending on the requirements of each individual patient’s daily life. Patients with the following disabilities and conditions may benefit from occupational therapy treatment:

  • Autism or sensory processing disorders
  • Developmental delays or learning disabilities
  • Broken bones or orthopaedic injuries
  • Birth injuries or defects
  • Burns
  • Cancer
  • Amputations
  • Hand or foot injuries
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Mental health or behavioural problems
  • Spina Bifida
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Chronic illnesses
  • Memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Fatigue
  • Chronic pain patients

What Are The Potential Benefits of Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy can be incredibly beneficial in helping patients to maintain and improve their ability to engage with the tasks they encounter in day-to-day life. People who obtain occupational therapy treatment are often able to avoid unnecessary hospital stays and may be able to postpone nursing home admissions. Occupational therapy can reduce the likelihood of workplace injuries by providing preventative treatment and equipment – for example, a sit-to-stand desk to improve posture, or work pacing advice. In the long term, these preventative measures can help to reduce unemployment rates among people with disabilities, supporting disability community inclusion.

Jay cushions

What Resources are Available?

Occupational therapists work in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centres, mental health facilities, private practices, nursing homes, and more. Occupational Therapy Australia is the peak body in Australia for occupational therapist registration, training, and resources. The organisation has a number of patient resource sheets available on its website, and it also maintains a directory to help patients find private practice occupational therapists.

Occupational therapy (or OT) is a fantastic treatment choice for patients who are seeking individual, practical assistance to live functionally. Many people with disabilities have found occupational therapy effective in enabling them to participate in the activities that matter most to them.

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