100 years of occupational therapy

Published 8:36 pm Wednesday, April 19, 2017

By Tonya S. Swindell

The American Occupational Therapy Association recognizes April as Occupational Therapy Month. This year is also the 100th anniversary of the profession, which started when reconstruction aides purposefully engaged World War II veterans in daily living activities.

This year, I had the pleasure of educating a group of 12- to 18-year-olds about the history of occupational therapy, settings in which OT personnel work and requirements for obtaining entry-level positions.

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Participants at the Portsmouth Redevelopment and Housing Authority Career Talks Series were very receptive and interactive as they learned about the profession.

As described by AOTA, “…occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations).”

In order to grasp what OTs do, it may be helpful to think of how a person’s ability to function can be impacted after having a stroke.

Performance of basic activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, feeding and toileting may be severely limited due to factors such as impaired judgment, lack of functional mobility and decreased strength.

Higher-level cognitive skills needed to write, type, drive, prepare meals, manage money and interact with others could also be hindered.

Occupational therapists assess and treat mental, physical and social aspects of a person’s condition while implementing strategies to promote greater independence.

Once a person’s ability to complete meaningful tasks has been assessed, OT treatment may include education, patient and caregiver training, hands-on demonstration and adaptation to develop more effective strategies.

Some OT professionals work within school systems helping children with conditions like autism, developmental delay, cerebral palsy or Down syndrome. Intervention may include engaging children in age appropriate tasks to improve social awareness, gross and fine motor movements or visual and perceptual skills.

Other OT practitioners work within hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, nursing homes, assisted living and home health. Assessment and treatment in those settings may focus on increasing independence for tasks like bathing, dressing, feeding or toileting. Meal preparation, money management and social skills may also be addressed.

Where appropriate, OT practitioners may teach individuals coping strategies while addressing topics such as stress management, anger management, assertiveness or leisure exploration.

Occupational therapy assistants require an associate or bachelor’s degree for entry-level practice. Occupational therapists entering the field must obtain a master’s degree. Some OTs obtain a doctoral degree that will allow them to teach and become more involved with research.

Occupational therapy is a valued profession with a long history of empowering individuals to achieve meaningful and purposeful activities. Volunteering and taking biology, psychology, anatomy and physiology classes may help people interested in the profession prepare for OT coursework.

Schools offering occupational therapy assistant programs within the Commonwealth of Virginia include Jefferson College of Health Sciences, Southwest Virginia Community College and Tidewater Community College.

Occupational therapy programs are provided by James Madison University, Jefferson College of Health Sciences, Radford University, Shenandoah University and Virginia Commonwealth University.

Tonya Swindell writes a blog for www.inspirenewlife.org and a teacher for Kingdom Building Equipping School (KBES.com). She can be reached at 1brightot@gmail.com.