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A Consumer's Guide to Occupational Therapy
The person who needs occupational therapy could be your father or mother facing changes because of aging. It could be your child, frustrated with being unable to do the seemingly simple things the other children at school can do. It could be you or your spouse coping with illness or the results of an accident. It could be anyone who, for whatever reason, can't do the things in life they want or need to do.

Occupational therapy is therapy based on performing the meaningful activities of daily life (self-care skills, education, work, or social interaction), especially to enable or enhance participation in such activities despite impairments or limitations in physical or mental functioning.* Occupational therapy is for individuals of all ages-to improve skills that help them perform daily tasks at home and at school, at work and at play.

Occupational therapy practitioners are skilled professionals. Their education includes the study of human growth and development, with specific emphasis on the social, emotional and physical effects of illness and injury. They help individuals with illnesses, injuries, certain conditions or disabilities get on with their "occupations" of living.

Occupational therapy practitioners are unique in that they look at the whole picture when it comes to a person's treatment- the individual's abilities, the task to be performed, and the environment in which the task takes place.

In a team of healthcare specialists, a surgeon, for example, will operate on your injured knee. A physical therapist will devise a series of exercises to help the knee heal properly with a maximum range of motion. An occupational therapist will ask, "What do you need your knee to do? What activities do you want to do, so you can adapt (the way you walk, drive, move around at home, etc.) to that knee," thereby determining the right treatment for keeping you mobile and an active participant in your own life.

There are many real-life stories of the wonderful transformations that people undergo with the help of occupational therapy. Read stories.

Chances are, you or a family member will need occupational therapy at some point in your life. Learn more about the value of occupational therapy, across the lifecycle, so that you are ready to seek the right treatment for your loved one when the time comes.

*(Eleventh Edition of Miriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 2003, as developed with the American Occupational Therapy Association.)


About one-third of occupational therapy practitioners work in school systems, pediatric hospitals, and health care facilities helping millions of children. This places OT practitioners on the frontlines of information about child health and wellness.

Within the school system, occupational therapy helps children facing physical, cognitive, or mental health challenges that affect their school performance, socialization, and health. School-based occupational therapy assessment and intervention focuses on certain areas:

  • Activities of daily living (caring for self-needs such as eating, dressing, and toilet habits)
  • Education (achieving in the learning environment)
  • Play (interacting with age-appropriate toys, games, equipment and activities)
  • Social participation (developing appropriate relationships and engaging in behavior that doesn't interfere with learning or social relationships)
  • Work (developing interests and skills necessary for transition to community life after graduation)

To find out how your child can receive occupational therapy through school, The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) has a good reference document that provides detailed information:

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers Tip Sheets for Consumers to help you cope with specific medical situations facing your child.


Occupational therapists perform a variety of services for individual adults, such as rehabilitation therapy after a work injury or accident. Occupational therapists also work in consultation with employers and community based organizations on a number of fronts, from program and facility design to day-to-day operations. Occupational therapists serve as advisors to manufacturing and service companies in areas covering wellness, ergonomics, and rehabilitation. Community organizations, government agencies, even construction companies confer with occupational therapists to develop programs to meet the needs of specific populations in the area of community mobility, wellness, facility design, and universal accessibility.

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers Tip Sheets for Consumers to help individuals cope with specific medical situations, and to determine how an occupational therapist can help improve wellness and accessibility in the community.

Older Adults

Nearly one-third of occupational therapy practitioners work with older adults. They perform many types of activities, employing many types of therapies, with the overriding goal of helping older adults regain or maintain a level of independence that will allow them to age in place for as long as possible. Occupational therapy has been proven effective for seniors living with various medical conditions or recovering from surgery. In addition to working with individuals to increase strength or regain important life supporting skills, occupational therapists work throughout a community, counseling families, local governments, and community groups to ensure that each is doing what it can to help older adults maintain their independence.

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers Tip Sheets for Consumers to help older adults cope with specific medical situations, and to determine how an occupational therapist can help improve independence and foster aging in place.

If your life is better because of occupational therapy, wouldn't you like to help other people become more aware of what occupational therapy can accomplish? Please donate.


  Copyright 2004 American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.  All Rights Reserved.