Living life “normally” is the desire of many disabled people living with mental, physical and emotional disabilities. Improved quality of life is also important. So how does a person with a disability learn to live a “normal” life that includes his or her disabilities? Occupational Therapy goes a long way towards achieving this goal. Read on to find out more.

In This Article

  • What Is Occupational Therapy?

  • Why Create Occupational Therapy Goals?

  • What Are the Components of an Occupational Therapy Plan?

  • Components of an Occupational Therapy Plan

  • Are Goals Flexible?

  • How Do Occupational Therapists Help Create Goals?

  • Short-Term Occupational Therapy Goals

  • Long-Term Occupational Therapy Goals

  • Short-Term Pediatric-Occupational Therapy Goals

  • Long-Term Pediatric Occupational Therapy Goals

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a type of therapy that works to help people with different types of disabilities live as normal life as possible. Professionally trained occupational therapists teach people not only to cope with a disability, but to learn to live with it. Occupational therapists instruct patients on all aspects of a patient’s life, including self-care, work and play. The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) focuses on how occupational therapy strives to create patient independence, prevent further injury and increase development.

Why Create Occupational Therapy Goals?

Without goals, there is no clear understanding of your desires, wants and needs. By creating clear goals, occupational therapists and patients can create a plan for achieving those goals. Occupational therapists work to help you create goals for self-care, work and play. They will also devise a plan for meeting those goals. This creates a measurable criteria and time frame. The ultimate goal of an occupational therapist is to help a person live as full and normal life as possible, regardless of the type of disability.

Components of an Occupational Therapy Plan

Writing occupational therapy plans creates a reachable list of goals for determining if a patient is being successful and achieving his or her goals. Every occupational therapy plan is different, because it is based on what a patient wants to achieve. Also because each patient’s disability and situation is unique, the plan is different. But while this plan is different for each person, the basic component questions and answers of the plan remain the same.

  • Who will do the work? The patient, physical and mental therapists, doctors and caregivers are the people who will do the work.
  • What must be done? The type of disability and the patient determines the occupational therapy plan. It includes any activity required to achieve the goals of the plan. Examples include teaching self-care, learning new ways to perform at work, physical goals such as lifting or walking, integration in a “normal” society of people, learning to speak again or pain management.
  • How will it be done? Performance is planned based on what is required. Those experiencing a traumatic event will receive mental and emotional  therapy for helping them learn to deal with what happened. Physical disabilities require people to learn how to live with the disability. Most activities involve a combination of treatments, including cognitive, emotional and physical therapy to help keep the body and brain healthy throughout treatment.
  • Where will it be done? Occupational therapy takes place in doctor’s office, gyms and at the person’s home, work and community. It take place in any situation the person might live, work or play in.
  • How long will it take? Therapy takes place until the ultimate goal set at the beginning of the plan is achieved.
  • What is the ultimate goal? The ultimate goal of occupational therapy is that a person have achieved living a “normal” life as possible.

Are Goals Flexible?

Occupational therapy goals must be flexible. A patient might not heal as quickly or learn a new task in the time frame allotted by the plan. Or the person changes his or her wants, needs or desires. As a result, the goals are flexible to allow for change. Flexible goals allow the patient to continue moving forward with reachable, measurable results, without feeling like he or she failed.

How Do Occupational Therapists Help Create Goals?

Everyone’s occupational therapy goals are different. Setting short and long term goals depends on the type of disability. These goals also take into account how the patient lives, works and plays. Someone with a cognitive disability may not have the same goals as someone with a physical or emotional one. Occupational therapists work with the individual and his or her caregivers to help determine what the person’s goals should accomplish to see improved quality of life in work, play or self-care.

Occupational therapists use a range of methods to help a patient create achievable goals. The therapist talks and listens to the patient, along with his or her caregivers. They do physical, sensory, cognitive and perceptual evaluations of the person. Occupational therapists also perform functional, psychosocial, vocational, home and play life evaluations to help determine what treatments and equipment are necessary for the patient to reach his or her goals of living a “normal” life. Once the therapist has determined how the disability affects the person’s life, they work closely with the people involved in the care giving process to form a plan for treatment.

Short-Term Occupational Therapy Goals

Short term goals are long term goals broken down into “bite-size” chunks. Creating easily reachable goals helps the patient enjoy success along the path of working towards the ultimate goal. Short term goals are achieved in a few days, weeks or months. Working and succeeding at short term goals helps the patient learn independence. Examples of short term goals:

  • Walk across a room in one week.
  • Take a shower by one’s self in a month.
  • Learn to speak five words a day.
  • Spend an hour in a crowded place.
  • Feed one’s self in weeks or a few months.
  • Be able to lift weighted objects again, from something as simple as a cup to heavier items, such as a gallon of milk, in a few weeks.
  • Able to cook to a month.
  • Type on a keyboard in a few weeks or a months.
  • Pick up something from the floor.
  • Climbing a ladder.
  • Walking without crutches.
  • Gain range of motion in an injured limb in a month.
  • Cares for pets or a service animal in a few weeks or months.
  • Make the bed or perform household chores.
  • Use a computer mouse.
  • Goes grocery shopping.
  • Use a gripper, clamp or stick to get things down or pick things up.

Long-Term Occupational Therapy Goals

Achieving long term goals means the patient has finally reached his or her ultimate goal. In occupational therapy, the ultimate goal is living life as fully and independently as possible with the disability. All the work put into each short term goals compounds until the person can no longer move forward anymore. It is possible that continued improvement will happen, but the patient can achieve better performance without the aid of a professional therapist. Generally, long term goals take a year or longer to achieve. Examples of long term goals:

  • Going back to work.
  • Walking unaided.
  • Complete reintegration back into society.
  • Able to live a “normal” healthy life.
  • Learn to pilot a wheelchair or use a cane.
  • Gain full use of a prosthetic limb.
  • Learn to read and write.
  • Able to participate in sports.
  • Drive a car.
  • Live alone.
  • Performing lawn care.
  • Conquer fear of injury.
  • Riding a bicycle.
  • Gaining back muscle use from long term disability.
  • A general, over all sense of well being.
  • Complete physical, mental or emotional therapy.
  • Advances to no more doctor visits.
  • Becomes independent with a service animal.
  • Gains control over fear of being in crowded rooms or of being attacked.
  • Functions “normally.”
  • Controls violent tendencies.
  • Speaks normally.
  • Able to travel or leave one’s home.

The majority of people, including those with mental, physical or emotional disabilities prefer to live independently. Occupational therapists work with patient to determine a patient’s goals for satisfying those needs, wants and desires in life.  The therapist then develops a plan, including short and long term goals, for helping the patient function with his or her disability, thus providing improvement in the patient’s quality of life. Finally, whether it is in self-care, work or play, quality of life plays an important role in living well.

Short-Term Pediatric Occupational Therapy Goals

Short term pediatric occupational therapy goals often include the simple functions in life, such as learning to dress one’s self or how to read and write. Children have not, yet, had the time to learn basic functions and abilities, so have to be taught from the start.

  • Learning the ABC’s.
  • Ability to sit next to people in class or a multiple person location.
  • Learning to dress.
  • How to wash one’s self or brush one’s teeth.
  • Can feed one’s self.
  • Plays with toys.
  • Cuts shapes out of paper.
  • Putting a puzzle together/coordination, such as putting together small legos vs. big ones.
  • Picks up small items.
  • Learns to write and form words or complete sentences.
  • Understands what his or her name, address and telephone number are.
  • Draws basic shapes.
  • Stands in a school lunch line and picks out food.
  • Learns the differences between right and wrong.

Long-Term Pediatric Occupational Therapy Goals

Long term pediatric occupational therapy goals can overlap with similar goals as adult goals, but they often differ in the fact that children are still learning how to do things in life. While occasionally adults need to be completely retrained in all functions the same as a child, it is a more rare occasion. Goals vary based on the disability or age of the child.

  • Learns how to function without pitching a tantrum.
  • Learns how to read.
  • Shares toys.
  • Speaks without stuttering.
  • Gains competence in physical, mental and motor skills.
  • Can ride a bicycle.
  • Has hand/eye coordination.
  • Grows into a functioning teenager or adult.
  • Plays sports.

In Summary

For more information on occupational therapy and how to set goals, check out the AOTA’s site for plenty of informative information. If you want to learn more about setting career goals, read our article ‘Examples of Long Term Career Goals.’