Happy Spring! As we welcome the arrival of spring, we look forward to longer evenings, warmer weather, and fun activities outside in the beauty of nature!

The celebration of Occupational Therapy Month also occurs in the spring, bringing greater awareness and recognition to a great profession and the many individuals empowered by the influence of an Occupational Therapist in their lives. April is a time to learn and reflect on both the early beginnings and modern innovations within the field of Occupational Therapy.

You may have encountered an Occupational Therapist in the care of a premature infant, a child with special needs, or an aging parent or grandparent. What is Occupational Therapy? There is often much intrigue and confusion with the varying roles of Occupational Therapists in medical, educational & community based settings.

Occupational Therapy has its roots in the treatment of individuals with mental illness in the late 1800’s to early 1900’s. Founders used a variety of work and leisure activities including arts & crafts, music, physical exercise, and other therapeutic activities, to improve daily living. Physicians began to take interest in this newer way of treating mental illness, so the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy (now AOTA) was established in 1917. In the 1920’s Occupational Therapy began to play a pivotal role in the treatment of patients with tuberculosis and polio. Following WWI, when thousands of soldiers returned home (many with new physical disabilities), Occupational Therapists began to fill the void of medical professionals available to treat individuals with physical disabilities. This shift created a more scientific approach to the Occupational Therapy field of study, which has continued to evolve over the last several decades.

Today… Occupational Therapists work with individuals across the lifespan to enhance and restore function through the use of meaningful activities. The word “Occupation” is not used to refer specifically to a job or profession, but rather the daily activities that bring purpose, meaning and quality to our daily lives.

Let’s take a quick glimpse at the varying roles an Occupational Therapist may have with individuals across the lifespan…

The “Occupation” of infants and young children revolves around feeding, sleeping, play, and developing safe, trusting bonds with caregivers. Healthy childhood development is dependent upon successful physical and emotional skill development in these areas. Occupational Therapists work closely with families, Speech & Language Pathologists and other professionals to address any concerns in these performance areas, as all babies need proper nutritional intake, sleep, and sensory input (comforting touch, movement, clean skin/diapers) for healthy growth.

As children enter the school-age years, their “Occupations” broaden to include school function, and enhanced opportunities for peer connections and relationships through play, sports and leisure activities. Successful physical, cognitive and social-emotional skill development helps children reach their greatest potential as learners, now and leading into their future endeavors. Occupational Therapists work closely with educators and families to improve motor coordination, visual perception, sensory integration, self-regulation and self-care skills required for success in daily home and school routines.

Adolescents and young adults prepare to enter the work force to reach greater independence and sustainability. Individuals with physical, cognitive or developmental disabilities may require specialized training, adaptations, and/or environmental modifications for successful job acquisition and performance. Occupational Therapists may work closely with the individual, family and potential employers to assess the work requirements and environment, as well as provide modifications and supplemental training and support to both the individual and employer.Adults may develop a medical or psychological condition that causes a decline in function or a change in their level of independence. Occupational Therapists work in hospital, rehabilitation, psychiatric, home healthcare, and community settings to help restore function and independence.

Examples: An adult has a stroke with resulting weakness on one side of their body, which impacts their ability to get dressed, walk to the bathroom, and hold their grandchild. …Or…A soldier requires a leg amputation due to a traumatic injury in combat, which impacts their ability to safely take a shower, stand to prepare a meal, or drive a vehicle. …Or…A young professional struggles with depression and anxiety, which begins to negatively impact their personal and professional relationships, and participation in self-care, work, and leisure activities.

Occupational Therapists work with these individuals to assess their function during the performance of their daily activities, and then utilize therapeutic activities to enhance physical, cognitive and psycho-social functioning. Occupational Therapists are experts at adapting and modifying activities and environments to improve independence, accessibility and participation in meaningful activities.

If there is an Occupational Therapist that has inspired you or someone you love♥…Take a moment to thank them for their hard work and compassionate care. Your words of encouragement and gratitude help them “fuel their tank” as they serve children and adults throughout their journeys and “Roads to Recovery”.

Learn more about Occupational Therapy at www.aota.org

This year’s Annual Conference will take place April 19-22, 2018 in Salt Lake City, Utah. http://www.aota.org/Conference-Events/annual-conference.aspx

Christina Connors, OTR/L received her degree in Occupational Therapy from Towson University in Baltimore, MD, and has been working as an Occupational Therapist with children and adults since 2002. Inspired by her son’s medical journey, and her desire to ease anxiety and improve age-appropriate communication for children and families facing medical challenges, Christina developed Child Inspired in collaboration with artist John Donato. Child InspiredTM is working to bring a blend of Art, Therapy and Functional Communication to healthcare and education settings in order to bridge the needs of children, families and healthcare & education professionals.