Occupational Therapy

Medical Reviewers: April Coats; Megan Hyman, M.S., OT/L; Amy Jo Rohe, MSOT, OTR/L, CSRS, CBIS
Last Updated: June 18, 2021

What is occupational therapy?

The field of occupational therapy (OT) centers around understanding what activities are meaningful to individual patients in their day-to-day lives, and helping them to increase mobility around those activities so they can get back to fully participating in them.

An occupation can be thought of as anything that occupies your time and is important for your wellbeing or helps you fulfill any roles you have in your family or community. Many people initially think about their job when they think of an occupation but it also includes all activities that you do throughout the day. We use the term ‘activities of daily living’ to describe your usual daily activities. Activities of daily living range from simple self-care activities, such as brushing your teeth and getting dressed, to more complex activities, such as going grocery shopping, doing yardwork, and also going to work at your job.

Occupational therapy focuses on helping clients gain or re-gain the ability to participate in their activities of daily living. Since we use our arms and hands to participate in our daily activities, you will often see occupational therapy treatment focus on upper body function. OTs are able to address visual, cognitive, and physical skill deficits, make adaptive equipment recommendations, and provide modification strategies in order to optimize performance, independence, and satisfaction with life occupations.

Types of occupational therapy

OT specialties are defined by either diagnosis, or the population of people affected. Occupational therapists consider what stage of their lifespan a patient is in, as well as their specific injuries. OT therapists are especially skilled to look at the holistic impact of an injury on each patient, evaluate the activities patients want to return to, and break those down to identify where there might be limitations or dysfunctions.

The primary specialties within OT are orthopedic, neurological, pediatric, and geriatric, and at Brooks, patients’ care is further personalized from there. What makes Brooks unique is the number of specialists who work on our team that support treatment of the mildest of deficits, to the most complex.

Orthopedic occupational therapy

Orthopedic OT will assess and treat acquired, chronic, and congenital upper extremity physical concerns with the goal of improving functional and physical independence in patient-selected occupations and goals. Orthopedic OTs are confident in creating comprehensive therapy plans for many conditions including upper body weakness, overuse injuries, arthritis, fractures, burns, and nerve palsies.

Neurological occupational therapy

Neurological occupational therapy focuses on helping clients gain or re-gain daily living skills either following a neurological event such as a stroke, brain injury, or spinal cord injury, or when living with a condition that affects the central nervous system such as Parkinson’s Disease, cerebral palsy, or multiple sclerosis. Our goal is to help you safely participate in daily activities that are most important to you at the highest level of independence possible.

Pediatric occupational therapy

Children are involved in many activities throughout their day that are important in their development. Occupational therapy promotes independent participation in these activities by addressing the skills necessary for function. Pediatric occupational therapy specialists support children and adolescents in meaningful activities such as play, social interaction, education, feeding, and self-care skills addressing motor skills, sensory processing, motor planning/praxis, visual motor development, and manipulation/dexterity. Occupational therapists are skilled to assess the environment to make needed modifications/adaptations to support independent participation. As families are an integral part of the treatment team, pediatric occupational therapist work with families to create an individualized home program, educating them on strategies, and empowering all caregivers to promote success in the child’s environment(s).

Oncology occupational therapy

Occupational therapists work with breast cancer patients as well as patients with other types of cancer including brain tumors and head and neck cancers. OT addresses range of motion, strength, scar management, and lymphedema. OTs also provide education to patients on anatomy, scar management, ROM, cancer fatigue, general exercise and specific exercise as indicated at initial evaluation, as well as signs and symptoms of lymphedema. Lymphedema therapy is available for upper extremity, lower extremity, and head and neck at select clinics.

Hand occupational therapy and splinting

Hand therapy is a clinical practice that focuses on rehabilitation of specific injuries and conditions of the elbow, wrist and hand. Hand therapy addresses conservative and post-operative treatment through exercises, education, soft tissue/manual therapy and custom splint fabrication in order to improve function for daily activity use. A Certified Hand Therapist, who has a CHT designated credential, has specialized training in hand therapy with advanced clinical skills in upper extremity rehabilitation. This credential assures that the therapist has achieved the highest level of competency by passing a national board certification. Brooks Rehabilitation hand therapists are certified by the Hand Therapy Certification Commission (HTCC) and are members of the American Society of Hand Therapists (ASHT).

Low Vision occupational therapy

Vision rehabilitation as a specialty area of occupational therapy seeks to provide the person with a reduction or loss of vision with practical solutions to complex life problems. Research shows that persons with vision loss commonly have other health conditions that accompany their change in eyesight. This makes everyday activities difficult. Vision rehabilitation occupational therapy, alongside optometry, aims to use low vision optics, assistive technologies, adaptive equipment, and other compensatory strategies to help persons engage in meaningful daily life tasks. This specialty practice area is highly focused on safe mobility strategies to promote an ease, comfort, and independence with community and home-based negotiations whether a person has caregiver assistance or seeks to be independent.

Who needs occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy can help anyone who has experienced an interruption to their development, who has an acute or traumatic injury, or who has a chronic or progressive condition. If a patient’s mobility is impacted by any one of these, OT can help them rehabilitate.

Benefits of occupational therapy

Occupational therapy allows patients to participate in the meaningful activities they wish to participate in by helping them to regain function, including:

  • Increased independence with activities of daily living
  • Decreased caregiver burden
  • Improved confidence in caregiver ability to care for loved one
  • Improved safety during activities of daily living
  • Fall prevention
  • Home program independence to maintain progress gained during therapy

Patients will be able to participate through assisted technologies or accommodations, and ultimately be empowered to learn how to support themselves in recovery and their continued quality of life. Through its OT program, Brooks helps patients understand how they can meet their own needs in the long-term.

In addition, Brooks’ specific continuum of care provides adjunct services like case management, community-based programs, and other support systems that go beyond outpatient sessions and help patients reintegrate into their community.

How are occupational therapy and physical therapy different?

Officially, the scope of practice for professional occupational therapists and physical therapists differs based on specific criteria, outlined by the American Physical Therapy Association and the American Occupational Therapy Association. But put simply, physical therapy is aimed at regaining a specific type of movement, whereas occupational therapy’s purpose is to fully restore the ability to participate in an activity. OT has a more holistic approach to care in this way.

While both OT and PT address body dysfunction and provide an individualized exercise/home program, the defining feature of Occupational Therapy is the focus on meaningful tasks and activities. OTs are trained to assess and identify gaps between the person, environment and occupation to target specific skill development and optimize functional independence.

OTs can provide ADL/IADL training, educate on environmental modifications, make splints, address upper extremity and hand function, and integrate goal-related activities into treatment plans to promote functional recovery. You will typically see occupation therapists working on the arm/upper extremity whereas a PT might focus more so on the neck, back, legs, and shoulders; especially when both disciplines are available in the same clinic. It is very common for PT and OT to work together to help clients meet their goals.

What happens during occupational therapy treatment?

At your first appointment, we will discuss your goals for therapy and determine which daily activities you are having limitations with performing.

Next, we will administer assessments that help us understand what is limiting your ability to engage in activities that are most important to you. These assessments may include measurements of the following: strength, hand dexterity, motor coordination, balance, sensation, cognition, vision, or joint range of motion. Each evaluation is unique, so assessments may vary depending on what you are being seen for.

Finally, we will recommend a plan of care and work with you to tailor that plan of care to meet your needs. In your subsequent appointments, we will spend time addressing the components that we found deficiencies in during your evaluation, providing education, providing a home program, and if applicable, providing recommendations and training for equipment, splints, and adaptive techniques. Home exercises and home education are a big part of the OT plan, and are incorporated at the end of each session. This is also why patients’ families and caregivers are so critical to the OT plan of care.

Do you need a referral to see an occupational therapist?

Patients will need to obtain a referral from their physician prior to starting occupational services. Once obtained, the patient may be scheduled for their initial evaluation at the clinic that best offers the services necessary for the patient’s recovery to be realized.

How to find an occupational therapist

Brooks Rehabilitation has many outpatient facilities with vast treatment options for occupational therapy throughout the greater Jacksonville, Fernandina, St. Augustine, Palm Coast, Daytona, Orlando, and Tampa regions.

To find a location closest to you and your needs, check out our locations page to find where our occupational therapy services are offered.

Medical Reviewers

April Coats

Occupational Therapist
April Coats was born and raised in Jacksonville, where she married and now has 2 grown children. April has been a working Occupational Therapist for 38 years with the majority of her experience in outpatient settings but with prior experience in acute care and home care settings. April enjoys working with a variety of diagnosis including neurologic patients (CVA, TBI, SCI, MS, Parkinsons), orthopedics and hands (shoulder, elbow, wrist and hands), oncology patients and lymphedema. April is also well versed in splinting techniques to aid and assist her patient’s recovery further. She has managed for several years at 2 separate Brooks Rehabilitation outpatient clinics before returning to full time patient care with the additional service of our subject matter expert for Occupational Therapy Oncology management, after assisting in development of the Brooks Outpatient Oncology Program.

Megan Hyman, M.S., OT/L

Pediatric Community Programs Manager, Outpatient Pediatric Program Coordinator
Megan Hyman is a pediatric occupational therapist with 20 years of experience working in outpatient, home, and school-based environments. Megan is the Pediatric Community Programs Manager, overseeing programs such as the Pediatric Recreation Program. Megan also serves as Outpatient Pediatric Program Coordinator to help develop best practices across the division’s 10 outpatient pediatric clinics. Megan is passionate about working with children and families impacted by developmental and neurological impairments, empowering them through education and access to community resources.

Amy Jo Rohe, MSOT, OTR/L, CSRS, CBIS

Occupational Therapist, Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist, Certified Brain Injury Specialist, AOTA Neurologic Fellowship Graduate
Amy Jo Rohe came to Brooks from Wisconsin in 2016. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin- La Crosse with her Master of Science in Occupational Therapy in 2015. She went on to complete the Brooks Neurologic Fellowship in 2018 where she gained specialized experience working in the Brooks specialty rehabilitation programs, including stroke, brain injury, and spinal cord injury. She holds specialty certifications as a Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist, Certified Brain Injury Specialist, and LSVT BIG Treatment Provider for Parkinson’s. She has experience working as an occupational therapist in outpatient, inpatient, and skilled nursing settings. She now works as an outpatient occupational therapist at our Brooks Mandarin location, serves as a mentor to occupational therapists as they complete the Brooks Neurologic Fellowship, and functions as the Occupational Therapy Subject Matter Expert for the Outpatient Neurology Program.