UNITED STATES—Occupational therapists (OTs) spend their time helping people gain skills and independence in their daily activities. They do this in many different ways, but one of the more common areas that their skills are needed is in motor skill challenges. With the right guidance from an OT, motor skill difficulties can be addressed, and good outcomes are likely. When working with this type of patient, OTs typically use sensory integration techniques, task practice strategies, and home programming.

The role of the OT is very important — and it can be quite lucrative. Through this article, we will explore how occupational therapists help individuals deal with their motor skill challenges and live fulfilling and purpose-filled lives. Let’s get started.

The journey to becoming an occupational therapist

Given its importance and the varied skillset required, it should be no surprise that becoming an OT requires completing a rigorous educational program. To become licensed, one must obtain at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Along with the traditional on-campus programs, there are also remote learning opportunities. OTD online programs, such as the ones offered by American International College (AIC), not only provide the theoretical knowledge and practical skills necessary for the profession but also instill a deep understanding of the profound impact OTs can have on their patients’ lives. Designed for working occupational therapists that already possess a master’s degree, an Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) prepares students to take on leadership, educational, and research roles.

There are a variety of different career paths OTs can pursue. Some may choose direct patient care, while others prefer teaching roles or research positions. Most practitioners find opportunities in hospitals, clinics, schools, rehabilitation facilities, or home health agencies. It’s also important to keep lifestyle preferences in mind when considering what type of career in occupational therapy you want.

Understanding motor skill challenges

Motor skills are the physical abilities needed to move your body. Walking, running, throwing a ball, and using utensils to eat are all types of motor skills. Motor skills can also be narrowed down to fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills require more precision and involve the smaller muscles in your hands and fingers. Tasks such as writing with a pen or buttoning up your shirt are good examples. Gross motor skills involve larger muscle movements that control whole parts of the body, such as jumping or hopping on one foot.

Motor skill challenges can impact many everyday tasks. Everything from getting dressed in the morning to playing sports or completing schoolwork. It is easy to see how debilitating this can be. Sometimes these difficulties are mild coordination issues, and other times they are severe impairments that require extensive work with an occupational therapist.

The most common causes of motor skill problems stem from medical conditions. Conditions such as cerebral palsy or genetic disorders such as Down syndrome and autism spectrum disorder can lead to motor skill issues. Sometimes people develop issues after recovering from an injury due to muscular weakness, and even poor nutrition can cause motor skill problems.

The role of occupational therapists in addressing motor skill challenges

To assess individual motor skill challenges, an OT will first conduct a comprehensive evaluation of their patient’s physical abilities and limitations. From here, they will create a tailored treatment plan. If the problems are mostly related to fine motor skills, then the OT may suggest using equipment such as ball pits or bean bags. They might also recommend improving balance through obstacle courses or yoga poses, as well as strength training with resistance bands. If improving gross motor skills is the goal, the OT may focus more on exercises such as hopping or general playground activities. The key is that the treatment plan is engaging, enjoyable, and effective at developing the targeted motor skills.

Customization plays an important role in occupational therapy interventions. No two patients have identical needs, so no two patients should have identical treatment plans. The treatment plan should be fluid as well. Changing things around after you see how the patient is responding is a good idea. The OT may introduce reward systems if the patient is having problems with motivation, or they might need additional visual cues such as charts or illustrations. Think outside the box to achieve the most effective results.

Techniques and strategies used in occupational therapy

We touched on some of the importance of being flexible in the last section, and now we’ll discuss specific techniques and strategies. Therapeutic exercises are used to strengthen muscles, increase flexibility, improve coordination and balance and teach the individual how to move correctly. The therapist will also give specific instructions on how best to perform a given task or activity. This will ensure that it can be done safely and effectively.

The role of assistive devices is also important in occupational therapy. Devices such as wheelchairs, walkers, braces or splints, orthotics, and prostheses can all be used. Assistive devices can help give the patient a sense of independence during their daily tasks, such as bathing or getting dressed.

Another technique is sensory integration therapy. This involves exposing the patient to different sensory stimuli such as a light touch on their skin or sound vibrations through headphones. This is a useful technique for patients who struggle with processing sensory information.

The impact of occupational therapy on individuals with motor skill challenges

Physical improvements are often the most visible outcome of OT treatment. Common types of treatment can lead to improved strength, mobility, and coordination. The key outcome from this is an improved sense of independence for the patient and more control over their day-to-day routines.

There are also important psychological benefits. By helping people regain control over their lives, OTs enable individuals to gain a new sense of confidence and self-esteem. This improved outlook on life has many benefits for adults and also for kids. It can help foster stronger relationships with others and an overall optimism for the future.

Occupational therapy plays an essential role in helping individuals with motor skill challenges to adapt and improve their physical abilities. It’s important that patient assessments are comprehensive and that treatment plans are tailored to each specific patient. The benefits to the patient are both physical and mental, and you would be hard-pressed to find a more fulfilling and rewarding career.