For people living with a disability, having access to an occupational therapist is enormously valuable in helping them to enjoy the maximum quality of life, by helping them be active and achieve independence.

What is occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is a type of healthcare where the therapist will focus on improving the health and wellbeing of their patients by helping them to participate in everyday activities. This ranges from self-care activities such as showering, dressing, and preparing and eating food, though to the more practical activities in life, such as work, community activities, finding and engaging in hobbies, and socialising.

An occupational therapist’s specialty is in being able to identify what is important to the patient – their goals and aspirations – and then determine the best way that the patient can achieve these things. This might involve adjusting the environment that the person with the disability is in to make the activity more accessible, or it might involve finding ways to adjust the activity itself so that it’s within the skillset of the individual.
In short, an occupational therapist’s role can be summarised in three ways:

  1. They help patients build knowledge and skills
  2. They help find new ways to do activities so that the person with the disability can continue doing them, and
  3. They change the environment to suit the needs of the person with the disability

In this way they an invaluable resource to a person living with a disability, whether it’s for a short term consultation, or if they need to help the person manage and live with long-term (chronic) health conditions.

Occupational therapy and learning

Learning disabilities are actually much more common than most people realise. Statistics show that one in ten people have some form of learning disability. This can show in a number of different areas – for example a child might have trouble with speech, their listening ability, or the ability to undertake a number of different academic subjects, such as maths, writing, or reading.

Learning disabilities can be found in people of all intelligence levels and, regardless of how skilled they are in one area, might affect their ability to lean in other areas. Getting help for children with learning disabilities as early as possible is important for managing the challenges that they face, and some of the warning signs to look out for include:

  • An inability to focus on one activity at a time, and is easily distracted
  • Particularly messy and poor handwriting
  • Orders sentences in the wrong way when speaking
  • Reverses letters in writing
  • Is particularly clumsy in movement for their age

If you observe these issues in your child, it’s a good idea to consult with a paediatrician to gain a diagnosis of a learning disorder, and then speak to an occupational therapist as soon as you can.

How an occupational therapist can help

To help children with learning disabilities, an occupational therapist will work very closely with the family to develop a schedule and approach that is tailored to each child’s unique challenges and capabilities.

Within that scope, an occupational therapist will recommend or conduct a wide range of different things. These include:

  • Adjusting the environment – the occupational therapist will look at where the child studies and learns, and make recommendations around what additional equipment should be put into the environment. A child might benefit from having access to a particular tool, for example.
  • Adjusting the schedule – the occupational therapist will also look the routines that the child undertakes, and determine whether those are right for their learning disabilities. A child might benefit from having more frequent, shorter breaks, for example. Or they might benefit from their day being structured in a particular order. The occupational therapist will help to develop a new routine, focused on better outcomes for the child.
  • Assistance with the learning – the occupational therapist will also help to develop and use techniques that will help the child with their learning. They might undertake cognitive behavioural therapies to help teach the child self-regulation and improve their alertness, for example. Or they might undertake sensory assessments and provide tools that help improve writing skills.

It’s important to remember that every child experiencing learning difficulties will have very different needs, based on the specific nature of their learning difficulty, as well as their general personality and preferred working conditions. There’s no hard-and-fast rules about the solutions that an occupational therapist will develop, and that’s precisely why they’re so invaluable for helping children with learning disabilities. Most learning environments are designed to be “one size fits all”, which can be frustrating or even distressing to a child. The occupational therapist’s role is to tailor the environment, leading to better learning outcomes, and a happier and more fulfilling learning experience for the child.

Occupational therapy is just one of the many therapy options that Ability Options can help you find. Click here to learn more.

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