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Occupational Therapy Month #OTMonth Matters

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Melinda Curle

If you didn't know, April is the month to celebrate the occupational therapy (OT) profession. While patients of all ages benefit from occupational therapy for acute and chronic health conditions, many people do not understand what occupational therapists actually do. That is why, having a dedicated month to celebrate OT brings awareness to a discipline that helps so many people lead better lives.

History Of Occupational Therapy
It may surprise some people to learn that OT originated in the 1800s. One of OT's earlier advocates was William Rush Dunton Jr., founder of the National Society for Promotion of Occupational Therapy. He later became known as "the father of occupational therapy".

While similar to physical therapy, OT is aimed to help patients improve basic motor skills and everyday functionality. Initially, OT drew from many disciplines, including physical therapy, social work, nursing care, psychiatry and orthopedics.

In the early 1900s, OT as it is known today came into existence. However, at this time, there was a lack of evidence-based practice and the treatments weren't fully understood. In fact, most patients were individuals with severe mental health issues, so the focus was on engaging them with meaningful activities and enhancing their daily quality of life.

In 1915, Eleanor Clark Slagle, also known as "the mother of occupational therapy," organized the first educational program for occupational therapists. Soon after, OT became recognized as a legitimate medical field and became more established. As the practice grew, specialties within OT developed. Particularly, A. Jean Ayers studied sensory integration and incorporated it into occupational therapy, making OT the leading industry for treating sensory dysfunctions.

What Is Occupational Therapy Month?
First honored in 1980, Occupational Therapy Month is aimed to raise awareness of a critical profession that helps people live their best lives. More so, it is conveniently near the same time as the annual American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) conference and exposition.

How do people and organizations commemorate this annual event? Many states and local governments issue proclamations to recognize Occupational Therapy Month. Additionally, OT professionals, their employers and other supporters may engage in online campaigns and legislative advocacy to raise awareness. AOTA encourages advocates to use #OTMonth and share promotional graphics on social media.

Why Is Occupational Therapy Month Important?
Each April, OT professionals and advocates honor the important role occupational therapy plays in improving people's lives. By recognizing and appreciating the importance of occupational therapy, substantial awareness has increased the growing effort to accept therapy specialties, no matter how niche or small.

Even so, some people may not be aware of the explicit benefits of occupational therapy, which is why this month is the perfect time to educate the public with informative resources on just how much OT is essential for patients with different capabilities and unique care needs.

How Is Occupational Therapy Different From Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy and occupational therapy are often confused because their modalities are similar. The main difference is that OT focuses on everyday tasks that people may need or want to do. For example, an occupational therapist may help someone recovering from an accident learn how to resume their daily routines, such as brushing their teeth, walking upstairs or even getting into a car while pediatric occupational therapists may help children improve motor skills so that they can complete schoolwork or engage in play.

By contrast, physical therapy assists with pain relief as well as restoring mobility and range of motion. Often, physical therapy patients are individuals recovering from an injury, people who have been in an accident or patients with a chronic or degenerative condition.

How Does Occupational Therapy Differ For Adults and Children?
While occupational therapy is available for people of all ages, OT treatments for adults are different from children. Why? OT focuses on skills a person needs to perform an occupation or daily task and since those activities vary widely between age groups, so does their care.

For instance, an occupational therapist may help an adult with tasks they need to perform at home, such as cooking, cleaning and self-care. Occupational therapists can also support adults with skills that they need for a job such as typing, handwriting or sitting at a desk for an extended period of time. On the other hand, a child's daily life may involve school and playtime, so a therapist may focus on tying shoes, holding a pencil or playing with toys.

How To Celebrate Occupational Therapy Month
You can bring awareness to occupational therapy by engaging others on social media or sharing your own experiences with family and friends, because chances are you may know someone who could benefit from OT.

If you have a knack for writing, celebrate Occupational Therapy Month by writing a blog or pitching an occupational therapy success story to your local newspaper or media outlet. Even better, you can host an event at work by sponsoring a guest speaker or using the opportunity to hold a contest. A fun idea for pediatric practices: invite patients to create artwork that depicts OT, then announce a few winners.

However you choose to celebrate Occupational Therapy Month, you can feel proud to support a profession that makes a positive difference in our world. As awareness of OT grows, more people will know how to seek treatment for themselves or their loved ones as well as better understand the significance occupational therapy has on patients' everyday lives.


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