The World Federation of Occupational Therapists defines occupational therapy as “a profession concerned with promoting health and wellbeing through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by enabling people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate, or by modifying the environment to better support participation.”
According to the Occupational Therapy Association of South Africa (OTASA), occupational therapy deals with fine-motor skills, visual-perceptual skills, cognitive skills and sensory-processing deficits. OTASA advocates that: “Occupational therapists use scientifically chosen, meaningful activities to assist diverse clients with a range of problems to maximise their functioning. This empowers them to be as independent as possible and to experience dignity and quality of life.”
Some of the misunderstandings around occupational therapy come from confusion around the word “occupation”. Why would a child need it, when they don’t have an occupation, as we understand it in the adult sense? However, “occupation” is meant in its broadest sense.
“The very word ‘occupation’ means an activity that occupies our time. A child in school has the occupation of learning. An adult may need to learn how to write after a traumatic injury. A senior may want to continue driving safely in order to stay active in their community. All of these things are occupations, and participating in them is vital to maintaining overall health and wellness,” explains The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
It took one meeting with an occupational therapist to change the way Jane* viewed not only the field of occupational therapy but, more importantly, her son and his individual needs. “My husband and I discussed at length what the teacher had told me about our son’s struggles in the classroom and eventually we decided it would be worse not to do anything. We owed it to Callum* to at least investigate it,” she says. “And once I got over myself, I was surprisingly impressed.”
What impressed Jane was the way the occupational therapist viewed Callum as a total entity, taking into account a variety of factors, including the way he played and what he liked to do, how he functioned at school, how he went about his daily activities and tasks, as well as the issues of posture, balance, motor skills and visual perception.
A year later, Jane says that occupational therapy is the best thing that could have happened to Callum. “I was so concerned about the stigma and worried about him being singled out, but he loves it,” she says. “He’s a different little boy. His confidence has increased so much and he has blossomed in every conceivable way.”
*Names have been changed.
Children who may benefit from occupational therapy …
- Were injured at birth or were born with birth defects
- Have sensory processing/integrative disorders
- Have suffered traumatic injuries (brain or spinal cord)
- Have learning problems
- Have autism
- Suffer from pervasive developmental disorders
- Have suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- Suffer from mental health or behavioural problems
- Have broken bones or other orthopaedic injuries
- Have experienced developmental delays
- Have post-surgical conditions
- Have suffered burns
- Have spina bifida (split spine)
- Have had traumatic amputations
- Have cancer
- Have suffered severe hand injuries
- Are sufferers of multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other chronic illnesses.
Adapted from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
OT should be considered if a child exhibits any of the following …
- He/she does not use his/her hands simultaneously and for different actions
- He/she cannot cut along a line at age four
- He/she cannot cut out a circle at age five
- He/she is always full of glue or paint but doesn’t know how it happened
- He/she has difficulty moving to music
- He/she has difficulty writing letters when he/she learns to write in Grade R.
Contact the Occupational Therapy Association of South Africa (OTASA): Tel: 012 362 5457; email firstname.lastname@example.org; otasa.org.za