Occupational Therapy and Telehealth

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Many people have been asking how Occupational Therapy (OT) works via telehealth, and how a therapist can provide treatment.  Telehealth Occupational Therapy is very much the same as in-person occupational therapy, and sometimes even more engaging and interactive for the client.

First, let’s look at what general occupational therapy is. What we do is functional therapy, looking at the word “occupation” not as “vocation” but as activities one performs during their day to “occupy” their time. We then, with the patient, identify and develop a treatment plan to improve the difficult task through working on whole body systems, environments, cognition, emotional responses, and supports. We provide treatment sessions that either work on foundational skills like strengthening, motor learning, and habit training. Or we can take a top down approach to adapt the environment or train in adaptive ways to perform a task.  For older adults, goal areas usually fall into categories of improving independence and skills in dressing, bathing, cooking, bill paying, shopping, etc. 

For children, we look at their important life stage occupations of learning, play, socialization, writing, motor skills. Let’s say the child is having problems with being able to stay seated in class and getting dressed in the morning. Through the evaluation, the OT has found the child has sensory processing issues and low tone, and now is treating these areas. The OT may start with some physical exercises for strengthening core for sitting, some sensory activities such as heavy work for proprioception, and then may ask them to do a task in sitting or dressing task with adaptations to directly train on a function needed. And this is all masked in play or some activity engaging for the child.

 This is pretty easy to imagine in a hands on setting, but you may ask how does it work in telehealth? It’s actually pretty simple, and may be even more beneficial for the parents and the child. What we do is, develop this same treatment plan, but have the parent or caregiver be an active participant and support within the session. We ask the parent to prepare things before the session or we have them make an “OT toolbox” to have every session. If the parent or child is unprepared with the planned materials, don’t fret- OTs are very good at thinking on their feet and creating activities from what is available. Or, if the child is old enough, we can ask them to perform the tasks through the computer.

Picture retrieved from https://www.theottoolbox.com/31-days-of-occupational-therapy-with/

There are some specific perks for occupational therapy telehealth:

  1. The child can become much more excited and feel “cool” talking to someone on the computer versus going to an outpatient clinic.
  2. Sessions from home save drive time and energy getting your child out of the door. The child can get care that they may not have in their area.
  3. OTs are trained to be “hands-off” as much as possible, and to let the patient struggle a tad so they can learn. The nature of telehealth physically limits how hands on an OT can be, and thus allows for better treatment as the patient has to be very engaged in the process.
  4. It is considered best practice for the parent to be an active participant in therapy. This is because one to two sessions a week is not going to make much of a difference. But, if the parent can participate within sessions and learn what and how the child should be practicing, they can follow through with recommended activities at a much better success rate. Being an active participant also gives the parent a sense of control of the situation, as well as gives them discrete time to set aside and have fun and play with their child with the support of a professional. They may learn to play or communicate with their child that they may have not thought of.

Granted, telehealth is not for every client- some children need hands on stretching, physical support, transfer assistance (aka manual and handling techniques) that OTs are especially trained to do. Or, a parent or caregiver may not be able to provide the support needed. However, most issues can be worked around.  With an OT’s creative mind, we can find ways to do most therapy goals with the support of the parent. We can train the parent how to provide physical support when needed, and this is beneficial as the parents are the most important people to learn handling and manual techniques for their child.

The field of occupational therapy is constantly changing, and I predict that telehealth will be become a popular mode of treatment within the future. It engages patients through the ever- growing technology realm, and requires the OT to stand back and have the caregiver be the active facilitator. It adds more creative treatment strategies and modalities that an OT can work with. And it opens doors for therapy to people that have no services in their area, or have difficulty getting out of the house.  

Head to our website for a free consultation to see if OT telehealth is right for and your child!

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