It’s April… That means it’s OT Month!
This month offers a great opportunity to better inform everyone about what in the world occupational therapists do all day.
I know that in my day to day experiences, confusion still runs rampant. Parents become overwhelmed by all of their child’s therapists, and there is sometimes a mix-up over who does what. I saw this a lot in home health, when parents had several people in and out of their homes all week. This is the setting where a parent and I had this conversation:
Parent: “All you girls that come out here seem to do the same things… How do you tell each other apart?”
Me: Set off in an instant OT defensive mode, “Well, we all have different goals and different frames of reference… (insert more word vomit as I dive into all of the areas of occupation…)”
It also gets confusing for parents because so much of what we do in OT is based in a person’s “occupations,” or their meaningful daily tasks. When you work with children, their main occupations include play. Many times it looks like we are just playing around, but I swear, it’s with a purpose. I think I made it look too easy one day when a mom and I had this conversation:
Mom: “Maybe I’ll do this as a job, it looks pretty fun. You get to just play with kids all day.”
Me: “Yeah, it is a pretty fun job.”
Mom: “Did you have to go to school or something?”
Me: “Uh, I had to go for 6 years of college.”
Mom: She just looked at me, completely flabbergasted.
Not going to lie, her shock forced me to question some things (mainly that pile of student loan debt I racked up in order to “play “ with her child). But I was able to pep myself up with the reminder that there is a lot more to the job than people see on the surface, and it’s a whole lot harder than it looks.
Since I spend most of my time hanging out with children, I figured I should start the OT advocacy with them. One thing I’ve noticed is that many children come to the clinic for more than one therapy (OT, Speech, PT). Parents often lump it together for ease, and the kids end up calling it all “speech” or “physical therapy.” (Uh, why doesn’t anyone just call it all OT for a change?)
Recently I’ve been trying to do a better job of teaching the kids that we all do different jobs, and I think I’ve been blowing their minds. For example, this conversation I had with a child:
Child: “You are fun, but so is your assistant.”
Me: I looked around the empty room, slightly confused. “Uh, who is my assistant, Buddy?”
Child: “Ms X.”
Me: “Oh, no, she is a speech therapist. We both do different jobs. She teaches you about words and I teach you about writing, getting your hands strong, controlling your body… (etc…etc…)”
Child: (Unfazed by my long-winded explanation.) “So she’s just kind of like your assistant?”
Or how about this conversation:
Child: “I love speech!” (An unprompted comment, I promise.)
Me: Skeptical of his choice of words, I decided to clarify. “Wait, do you love speech, or do you love when you get to come to the gym with me?”
Child: “The gym.” (I knew it!)
Me: “Well, that’s not speech. Ms. X is a speech teacher. Do you know what I am?”
Child: Pausing for a moment to think…“A gym teacher?”
Hmm, not a bad guess, my friend. Although maybe our profession needs a new name altogether, as this child pointed out:
Me: “Do you know what it’s called when you come to see me?”
Child: “I don’t know,” he said with an uninterested shrug of the shoulders.
Me: “Occupational Therapy.”
Child: A look of concerned confusion crossed his face as he attempted to process what I had just said. He finally replied with, “That word is way too big.”
After all of that I figured I would just ask the simple question: “Do you know what occupational therapy is?” The children tried their best to answer this difficult question:
Child 1: “When you write letters?” (This poor guy was searching so hard for the correct answer.)
Child 2: “When you work on your visual skills.” (We mostly focus on visual-perception with this child, so bonus points for him.)
Child 3: “When you play in the gym.” (There goes that whole gym teacher stereotype again.)
Child 4: “When you make me do writing.” (This kind of makes me sound super mean.)
Child 5: “It’s a place you go to learn things.” (When I asked him what kinds of things, he was pretty certain that he could learn everything in OT. What a cool kid.)
Child 6: “Where you do fun things!” (Yes! I think this is the new Pediatric OT motto! Hey, it’s certainly better than “OT: Where we make you do writing.”)
While these answers are fantastic, they also helped me refocus on a very important detail. For the overwhelming majority, OT is a fun place. For whatever reasons these children have to come for “therapy,” they find joy in activities that help them achieve their goals.
Not such a bad gig, huh?
Happy OT Month!