I am an OT. Occupational Therapist. To be more specific, I have been a pediatric Occupational Therapist for over 16 years. And no, I don’t help kids find jobs.
The American Occupational Therapy Association describes the role of an Occupational Therapist as someone who “helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations).” That means we OTs use activities to help people achieve their goals and participate in the activities that are important to their lives. In contrast, Physical Therapists largely use exercises to help people improve skills to achieve goals.
Because I work with children, the activites that are most important in their lives relate to learning to become independent, playing, and requirements at school. And children inherently learn through play. So my job is to “play” with children all day! At least that’s what it would look like to most observers.
In reality, all of the play I am involved in is therapeutic. When we have “Tackle Time” and I individually “tackle” a child’s body parts while naming them, I might be working on sensory processing, muscle tone, eye contact, and body parts awareness/ identification. When I’m helping a child play dress-up with a stuffed bear, we might really be working on following directions, motor planning, resistance grip, fine motor manipulation, and tactile desensitization. When we’re drawing a house on the chalkboard, we could be working on crossing midline, visual-motor integration, wrist extension, and tripod grip, all while maintaining an erect posture.
I know we’re working on these skills. But the child thinks we’re just playing. And because it’s just play, they’re more eager to participate. When they actively participate (vs. passively being involved in movement), progress is made.
As with any profession, there are some parts that you don’t enjoy. I jokingly say I treat the kids for free, but I get paid for every word I write. There’s a lot of documentation involved. And I struggle with dealing with insurance companies, but consider them a necessary evil so that the parents of my patients can access the therapy their child needs.
But the kids are worth it. And all of this play is fun. I get to giggle and roar and make funny noises and run and climb and swing and draw and color and play make-believe and give/receive high-fives to my little friends at “work”. And I get to help parents help their most precious gifts. All because I’m an OT, and it’s a pretty good gig!