occupational therapy subspecialty

The Top Occupational Therapy Subspecialties

Occupational therapy and its pursuit of enabling individuals to develop the movements that are meaningful to them is noble, admirable and increasingly necessary. Named one of the highest earning healthcare support professions of 2020, it’s a lucrative career choice as well. 


There are many different subspecialized OT roles, each of which narrow in on a specific type of patient or group of functions. Some subspecialties include certified hand therapists, neuro-developmental treatment therapists, physical rehabilitation specialists, and low vision specialists – just to name a few! Deciding which specialty to pursue can be a daunting task, but with a wide variety of paths and settings, there is bound to be a good fit for any occupational therapist. 


If you are aspiring towards a career in occupational therapy or are considering a shift in your scope of practice, keep reading. While this is not an exhaustive list, below is some insight into just a few of the most popular subspecialties, along with some inspiring success stories from fellow OTs. 


Gerontological Occupational Therapy


Working with elderly people is one of the most common occupational therapy subspecialties. Due to an aging population and the fact that older people tend to have more health concerns, there is a large patient base for this path. Some common reasons why an older patient might require occupational therapy include a desire to live independently in their own home, recovering from a joint replacement, being able to drive safely and confidently, or any number of other health issues. 


Older people often have more factors at play that contribute to their need for occupational therapy intervention. For example, an occupational therapist working at Mount Sinai hospital in Toronto, Canada revealed that while working in the geriatric emergency department, many different routes needed to be explored to determine the best plan of action for any patient. One patient had failed to respond to therapies at a rehabilitation facility, and their condition was worsening quickly. Only once the patient’s psychiatric, not physical, issues had been identified were they able to respond well to OT therapies, ultimately putting off having to move to a long-term care facility.


Pediatric Occupational Therapy


On the opposite side of the spectrum, working with the little ones of our society is another popular occupational therapy subspecialty. Addressing potential functionality issues as early as possible is paramount, so pediatric OTs assist with movements like crawling, walking and speaking. Moreover, they often play a vital role in helping children on the autism spectrum or children with physical or mental disabilities develop functional skills that may be more difficult to build.


One of the most challenging factors to consider is that children often have trouble communicating exactly what the problem is. A great example of how OTs can help children break through is the story of Nick, an autistic child in Virginia Beach who had worked with a total of 16 therapists with no headway, causing his parents frustration and eventual cancellation of therapy. 


His difficulty communicating was misconstrued as an inability to understand, but Brittany Mowfy, the director of the Southeastern Therapy for Kids clinic, uncovered that he was able to communicate clearly through software on an iPad. Once it was identified that he was much more intelligent than everyone had believed him to be, appropriate therapies could be applied. 


occupational therapy


Environmental or Home Modification


Sometimes, rather than attempting to help patients change aspects within their movement is not the best solution. Instead, making modifications to the environment in which they are living, or working is a more effective strategy. 


According to the AOTA, OT practitioners that work under the Environmental Modification specialty are “skilled at recognizing how the environment affects the ability to perform desired occupations…modifications and interventions are selected with a goal of maximizing safety and independence in the home.” This could include remodeling, adding handles or supports, changing lighting and so on, all of which can help a patient live with more confidence and a lowered risk of injury.


Mental Health Occupational Therapy


While most commonly associated with physical well-being, occupational therapy has some strong connections to mental health as well. Individuals that suffer from mental illnesses often have more difficulty interacting with the world around them, but intervention from OTs can provide them with useful coping mechanisms and functional skills that can relieve some strain on themselves and those around them.


Some common areas that mental health OTs cover include grounding and sensory strategies for coping with stressful situations, introducing therapeutic activities like cooking or listening to music, and providing tools for living independently, such as money management or job readiness. 


Nancy Curci, an occupational therapist who specializes in working with people experiencing homelessness and mental illness, uses a flexible model called The Road Back which helps people find their place in the communities they have been disenfranchised from. By assessing social skills and tracking the progress of daily living functions, she has helped countless homeless people with mental afflictions re-engage in society. 


If you are looking for a great new position in the world of occupational therapy, Radius would be happy to help. It’s one of our specialties! Visit our job board for current opportunities or email us directly at inquiries@radiusstaffingsolutions.com


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