Happy OT Month! How Kids Explain Occupational Therapy…

OT Month 2013 - How Kids Explain Occupational Therapy

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!


About TheAnonymousOT

Pediatric Occupational Therapist
This entry was posted in Occupational Therapy, Stuff Kids Say, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to Happy OT Month! How Kids Explain Occupational Therapy…

  1. I got the same comment from a parent once, who wanted to just walk in and be my assistant!

  2. My grandparents in law thought for years that I help people find jobs! It wasn’t until one of them had OT that they realized that isn’t the case. Although they are still not certain how it is that I help toddlers bathe themselves…

  3. Ina says:

    Story of our lives, right? It’s never easy to explain what we do! I love your idea of asking the kids what they think OT is. Totally going to do that this month!

  4. Carol Hesch says:

    Well said………Love it!!

  5. Pingback: Happy OT Month! How Kids Explain Occupational Therapy… – THE OT-SI PROJECT

  6. Daisy Salinas says:

    Well said =) I am a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant and get questioned all the time about what OT really is. I love my career choice. Didn’t go the 6 year route, but still get to enjoy treating under the supervision of an OT.

  7. Karli says:

    I work in early intervention and often get confused with the Developmental Specialist. Or the Developmental Specialist is often called a therapist by the parents (Oh, the other therapist So-and-so is coming tomorrow.) Thanks for the read!

    • Thanks Karli,
      I also enjoyed being called “The doctor lady” quite a bit in early intervention. There were just so many people involved in the case that it was hard to keep us all straight!

  8. Ashley says:

    I love your blog, just started reading it. I am a COTA in schools and wouldn’t trade my job for anything. I have two kids this year who don’t know my name but instead just yell “Hey OT!!” when they see me. LOVE it! I don’t ever correct them. I’m with you though about it being hard to explain to someone with nothing to reference it to. Its really hard too as a COTA because as soon as you say “assistant” some people assume that means you didn’t have to college or that just anyone could do the job.

  9. Susan Livingston says:

    A while back when we moved our clinic to a larger facility, I had a child ask “Are you going to be here for a while?” I said yes, we are, why? He answered, “Well I was afraid you were going to go and get a REAL job.” I said, what do you think we do here, he said “Well, it’s a lot of fun, not like work.” I asked him what he was doing he wasn’t doing a few months ago….he said “Oh, you mean like riding my bike, reading and tying my shoes? Oh! I get it now!”

  10. Caroline says:

    Hi, I’m 16 and love working with kids with special needs. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to become a special needs teacher, but I’m now considering double majoring in occupational therapy since teacher salaries are a little rough). Do you get to work with kids with special needs (because those kids are my real passion)? Do you have any suggestions for what I should do to prepare for an OT career? I have a fair amount of experience teaching kids with special needs, but I’ve never done any OT! Thanks for your help! I know I may be young, but it’s very important to me to have a goal in what I’m doing so that I can prepare before college =). I appreciate any comments or suggestions you may have for me!

    • Lex says:

      Hey Caroline:) I’m a first year OT student:) You most definitely do get to work with special needs children:) If children are your passion you can always specialize I’m pediatrics! To prepare for an OT career I suggest you do some job shadowing of an occupational therapist so that you can gain greater insight on what exactly you will be doing. You’ll get such a deep sense of satisfaction from helping kids and watching them improve. It`’s a really tough degree, but it seems like it will be worth it. P.s if you’re considering going into OT also ask yourself if you have a love for learning about the body, cause anatomy and physiology are some of your subjects, if not then maybe you are more suited to teaching. Best of luck for your future! 🙂

  11. Pingback: Happy OT Month! How Kids Explain Occupational Therapy… | Thisisnix OT Journal


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