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Connecting Mind & Body: The Science of Occupational Therapy

Connecting Mind & Body: The Science of Occupational Therapy

Published: 08/15/2010 by Charlene Wright

» Health and Wellness

Most people do not know about the occupational therapist’s role and how they can help. Simply, an occupational therapist makes sure a person is able to do what would normally occupy them.

Anyone with a health related issue, from children to adults, can be seen by an occupational therapist.  An occupational therapist treats the whole person (mind, body, and spirit), modifying the person, the occupation, and/or the environment as needed. Ergonomics, splinting, and aides such as bath bars are the most well-known adaptations. School related activities are what occupy young people most. Students may have trouble being productive, organizing themselves, over or under-reacting to normal stimuli, or have difficulty with written output and other fine motor activities.

Motor learning theory tells us that functional performance improves when a task is broken down, not only into the steps, but also when considering the positioning and focusing components. Goals must also be meaningful to the person in order to change habits.  Consider how your student is functioning, physically and mentally. What looks like poor behaviour can sometimes be addressed through activities for the mind and body. Here are some activities that may be helpful:

Get up! Stuck in a rut? Get up and move. The time spent drifting off when trying to read or write a sentence is wasting time and energy. Every 20 minutes give your eyes a break. Look away. Get up and move. Start again with a fresh mind.

Get mentally grounded. Lost in thought? Focused on something negative? Provide your mind with strong input from the body. Stretch, bend, turn, or climb (stairs, ropes, monkey bars, bochu ball). There is nothing more real than input from your own body. It takes you away from unproductive or agitated thinking and regulates bodily symptoms like a racing heart.

Get mentally organized. One way to do this is simple sequential finger to thumb touches.  This works by (1) Make an okay sign with your index and your thumb (2) Then make an okay sign with your middle finger and thumb, moving along to your pinky (3) Do the pinky again, then move in sequence back to the index finger.  Start very slow, get every movement just right, always maintaining a nice rounded okay sign. Count each finger as you go:  1  2  3  4,    4  3  2  1 . Silently.

Get back to work. Make your routines include scheduled breaks. When we know there is an end or a break coming, we can persist with tedious tasks. This will be especially important for repetitive learning activities like math and copying down notes. Recognize what you’ve accomplished so you can feel good about it.

Be a  STAR. This stands for: Stop, Think, Act, Review.  Learning activities like letter formation require making and following a plan (motor planning). After forming every letter it should be reviewed. Cue your student to “stop and think”, does it look the same as the model? Provide important information like: “The back of a B is straight down. How can you make it straight?” Let the student act. Then review again or move on. Avoid making erasures part of the motor plan. Be a STAR each time a new learning activity is attempted.

Practice.  It is important to practice an effective motor plan and not to practice an ineffective one. It is okay to take a break and do something different. For instance, scribbling or finger painting provides feedback from the motor system through the eyes. The student sees what motor action caused what shape on the page. Play, then produce, then play. Always end on a positive note.

Students say they like Occupational Therapy because it “shows me a way I can do it myself”. It feels good to be successful.

To find a occupational therapist near you visit the national website www.otworks.ca.  <>