Who needs occupational therapy?

The essence of occupational therapy (OT), and indeed one of its primary goals, is to boost an individual’s functional ability and autonomy so that they can share in the activities that they desire. Evidently, OTs work with people of all ages with difficulties in all areas of daily living. While OTs ordinarily participate in therapy with people who have medical conditions, they may also work with anyone who has a particular difficulty (with no diagnosis).

For instance, OTs often work with young children who have fine and gross motor skills difficulties or help young adults become more prepared for work. OTs also commonly work in the rehabilitation sector and help people who have suffered workplace injuries return to work safely.

Moreover, people with various medical conditions or disabilities may pay for occupational therapists through the NDIS, including people with amputations, heart attack or stroke sufferers, mental health issues, brain or spinal injuries, burn victims, intellectual disability, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy (and other permanent disability), or development disorders such as autism or learning difficulties.

What will occupational therapy to do help?

When someone has been referred for OT, the first step is usually for the therapist to meet the person (and their parents/carers, if applicable) and learn about their background and reason for referral. This includes the OT gaining as much information as possible regarding the person’s personal, social and physical environment, and medical and family history.

This is so the OT can understand what the person’s needs are and collaborate with them to establish a plan for the therapy. Depending on the individual’s requirements, the OT may advise regular therapy sessions (e.g., weekly or fortnightly), or short-term therapy (e.g., for a person needing physical rehabilitation following an injury).

The OT may also be asked to perform or recommend that the client needs, a standardized assessment to help measure the person’s current functional capacity. For instance, OTs will often be asked to perform functional assessments to help guide a person’s supported accommodation needs or a sensory profile assessment which assists in forming therapy goals.

While a large part of OT revolves around expanding a person’s functional skills, it also usually involves the OT identifying ways to make practical changes to the client’s physical habitat to better facilitate the client’s needs. For instance, OTs frequently complete home modifications or vehicle modification assessments to analyze how a person’s environment can better accommodate their situation. For instance, OTs may recommend bathroom rails or ramps around a person’s home for someone who has difficulty with mobility.

It is important to note that OTs will evolve therapy plans that are tailored to the person’s exclusive needs, and as the person grows, matures, or medical conditions change, these therapy goals will likely change.

How can the NDIS help me?

The NDIS has been operating in New South Wales since 2016. The NDIS (standing for National Disability Insurance Scheme) is the novel way that Australians 65 years and under with a significant and chronic condition/disability can gain increased supports to improve their quality of life. One of the leading principles of the NDIS is that it allows clients (termed ‘participants’) increased ability to select the services they want to use.

It is also important to observe that the NDIS can provide further supports that are imperative to heighten a person’s independence; however it does not cover supports or therapies that are encompassed by other sectors. For instance, the scheme does not cover any therapy or treatment from a doctor, as these interventions are already covered by the health system.

Does the NDIS pay for occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy (and other allied health therapies such as psychology and speech therapy) is included in the NDIS. To be able to pay for an occupational therapist through the NDIS, a participant must have appropriate funding in their NDIS plan. An occupational therapist through the NDIS falls under the “Improved daily living” or “Capacity Building (CB) daily activity” section of supports, which is the funding that includes allied health therapies.

Depending on what a person requires for OT, one may pay for an occupational therapist through the NDIS for the following:

  • Functional assessments (to look at a person’s level of everyday functioning)
  • Home assessments (to investigate if a person’s home is suitable for their condition/needs, or if there are serious safety concerns)
  • Assessments focusing on a person’s recreation/vocational or employment goals and support needs
  • Home modifications (if a person requires physical changes made to their home environment to better cater to their needs)
  • Sensory profiles (to mark a person’s sensory modulation level and guide further therapy)
  • Assistive technology assessments (to prescribe necessary equipment that a person needs, e.g., speech or hearing aids)
  • Assessments for housing (to determine suitable accommodation placement, e.g., if a person needs high, moderate or low supports in the community)

The amount of OT that the NDIS will cover depends on the magnitude of the participant’s plan in the above-mentioned funding category. If a person has funding that is insufficient to meet their needs, they will need to have their plan reviewed by the NDIS. NDIS participants who find it hard to understand their eligibility and properly use their funds can avail for plan management.