Written by Lisa Bilodeau, Occupational Therapist (OT)

What is an OT?

(Occupational therapists help people return to work… right…?)

Actually, the field of occupational therapy is far broader than that. OTs are trained in both physical medicine and mental health. As a result, OTs can work with people across the lifespan in a variety of practice settings including mental health facilities, schools, early intervention programs, long term care facilities, and hospitals (just to name a few). Occupational therapists work to solve problems that may interfere with a person’s ability to do the things that are important to them.

Occupational Therapy Assessment & Intervention

When an occupational performance difficulty arises (i.e., a child who has difficulty with printing), an occupational therapist is trained to analyze all aspects of the problem.

Occupational therapists recognize that there are several person factors (cognitive, affective, physical and spiritual) and environmental factors (physical, institutional, cultural, or the social environment) that may impact occupational performance. An occupation is any activity that a person completes throughout the day, which may include self-care, productivity and leisure activities. An OT assessment involves analyzing which of these factors are impacting a person’s ability to do the things they need/want to do (occupation).  OT intervention might involve modifying the task, changing the environment, or creating change at the person level to improve functional performance in daily living activities.

Occupational Therapy in Mental Health

Within the field of pediatric mental health, motor difficulties may occur alongside other mental health conditions. Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) is a condition that impacts a child’s acquisition and coordination of motor movements. This results in difficulty completing age-appropriate daily living tasks (i.e. participation in sports and recreational activities such as bike riding, and self-care activities such as dressing). As a result, children with DCD may perceive themselves as less competent overall and their self-esteem may be impacted. DCD is commonly associated with other conditions such as speech and language impairments, ADHD, learning disorders, anxiety, and depression. It is estimated that as many as 5% of children would qualify for a diagnosis of DCD; therefore, it is likely that there is at least one child with DCD in every classroom.

Given the impact DCD can have on a child’s developing self-concept and the prevalence of this condition, it is likely that many of CASA’s clients struggle with motor difficulties which may have an impact on their mental health.  Luckily there are options! Occupational therapy can help.

Occupational Therapy Services at CASA

CASA’s Occupational Therapy Program is designed to enhance the mental health treatment that CASA’s clients receive by addressing functional difficulties in the child or adolescent’s life. Assessment and consultation in the areas of motor development, visual perception, and sensory processing may be provided. Strategies are developed to enhance participation in daily living activities.

CASA’s clients can access occupational therapy services through an internal referral completed by a therapist or physician attached to one of CASA’s programs. Referrals are screened by CASA’s occupational therapist before services are provided. Appropriate referrals are those where the client is not already accessing occupational therapy services (i.e., they do not receive OT through a Program Unit Funding program or through the school system), there is a clear functional need (i.e., daily living activities are being impacted), or in situations where it is clear that a consultation or assessment would benefit the therapy process.