Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational Therapy (OT) is a client-centered health profession that focuses on promoting health and well-being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. This therapy is particularly beneficial for individuals who have physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. In the context of ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapy, OT often plays a complementary role in supporting individuals with autism and other developmental disorders.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy helps people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability. The term “occupation” in occupational therapy refers to the everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families, and with communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life. These activities can include daily tasks like self-care, education, work, play, and social interactions.

The Role of an Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist (OT) works with individuals to assess and provide interventions that help them achieve independence in all facets of their lives. They develop customized treatment plans to improve a person’s ability to perform daily activities, increase independence, and achieve personal goals. Occupational therapists also help to modify the environment and provide adaptive equipment to enhance independence and safety.

Key Areas of Occupational Therapy

  1. Pediatric Occupational Therapy: This focuses on helping children develop the skills they need for playing, school performance, and daily activities. Pediatric OTs work with children who have various conditions including developmental delays, autism, sensory processing disorders, and physical disabilities.
  2. Geriatric Occupational Therapy: This area helps older adults maintain their independence and improve their quality of life. Geriatric OTs address issues related to aging such as arthritis, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and other conditions that affect the elderly.
  3. Rehabilitation Occupational Therapy: This includes working with individuals who have suffered injuries or illnesses that impact their ability to perform daily tasks. Rehabilitation OTs help clients regain skills and adapt to new ways of performing activities.
  4. Mental Health Occupational Therapy: This involves working with individuals who have mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Mental health OTs help clients develop coping strategies, improve social skills, and engage in meaningful activities.

How Occupational Therapy Supports ABA Therapy

Occupational therapy and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy can work hand in hand to support individuals with autism and other developmental disorders. Here’s how OT can complement ABA therapy:

  • Sensory Integration: Many individuals with autism experience sensory processing issues. OTs can develop sensory diets and interventions to help manage sensory sensitivities, which can improve the effectiveness of ABA therapy.
  • Fine and Gross Motor Skills: OTs work on improving fine and gross motor skills, which are essential for daily living and learning. These improvements can support the goals set in ABA therapy.
  • Self-Care Skills: Occupational therapists help individuals develop self-care skills such as dressing, grooming, and eating independently. This complements the life skills training often included in ABA programs.
  • Environmental Modifications: OTs can recommend changes in the home or school environment to reduce barriers to participation and improve learning outcomes in ABA therapy.

Benefits of Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy offers numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased Independence: Through tailored interventions, individuals can improve their ability to perform daily tasks independently.
  • Improved Quality of Life: By engaging in meaningful activities and achieving personal goals, clients often experience an enhanced quality of life.
  • Enhanced Development: For children, OT can promote development and facilitate participation in school and play activities.
  • Better Mental Health: Engaging in meaningful activities can improve mental health and reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Occupational Therapy Assessment and Intervention

The process of occupational therapy begins with a thorough assessment. This includes:

  1. Initial Evaluation: The OT evaluates the client’s strengths, needs, and goals through interviews, observations, and standardized assessments.
  2. Goal Setting: Based on the evaluation, the OT sets specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound (SMART) goals with the client and their family.
  3. Intervention Planning: The OT develops a customized intervention plan that outlines the strategies and activities to be used to achieve the goals.
  4. Implementation: The intervention plan is put into action. This may include direct therapy sessions, training for family members, and recommendations for adaptive equipment or environmental modifications.
  5. Reevaluation: The OT periodically reassesses the client’s progress and makes adjustments to the intervention plan as needed.

Finding an Occupational Therapist in Chicago

For families and individuals in Chicago looking for occupational therapy services, it’s important to find a qualified and experienced therapist. Here are some tips:

  • Ask for Referrals: Consult with your primary care physician, pediatrician, or ABA therapist for recommendations.
  • Check Credentials: Ensure that the occupational therapist is licensed and has the appropriate qualifications and experience.
  • Read Reviews: Look for reviews and testimonials from other clients to gauge the therapist’s effectiveness and approach.
  • Visit Facilities: If possible, visit the therapy facility to see if it meets your needs and expectations.


Occupational Therapy (OT) is a vital profession that supports individuals in achieving independence and improving their quality of life through meaningful activities. In the context of ABA therapy, OT can play a significant role in enhancing the overall effectiveness of interventions for individuals with autism and other developmental disorders. By understanding the comprehensive nature of OT, families can make informed decisions to support their loved ones’ health and well-being.

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