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The Difference in Therapeutic Disciplines | PT, OT, SLP

What’s the difference?

I cannot tell you how many times I hear, “What is the difference between physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy?”

It’s a great question! A quick, short answer to this question may be the following:

  • Physical Therapists: Health care professionals who can help patients reduce pain and improve or restore mobility (APTA)
  • Occupational Therapists: Health care professionals who help people across their lifespan participate in the things they want, and need, to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities AKA occupations (AOTA)
  • Speech Language Pathologists: Health care professionals who work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treatspeechlanguagesocial communicationcognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders (ASHA)

Do the above definitions start to blur together? We think so! If you’ve ever observed a treatment session at Crawl Walk you may have spotted…

  • An OT performing oral motor tasks (wait…isn’t this a speech job?)
  • A speech therapist working on trunk control (wait…PT is in charge of this!)
  • A PT using sensory integration (wait…you’re not an OT!)

Are our therapists having an identity crisis? What is happening here?

Naw, don’t worry! This is all normal, and actually a really great thing! So let’s break this down a bit.

In the first example, the OT is helping to strengthen oral motor muscles because the patient’s goal is feeding. A person happens to use the same oral motor muscles to feed as they do to speak. In the second example, the speech therapist is working on trunk control because speaking and swallowing requires quite a bit of core strength! In the third example, the PT is using sensory integration because the sensory system drives the motor system.

So now you can see that therapists’ roles are not as simple as the OT does arms and the PT gets legs.

At Crawl Walk, our philosophy is to treat each patient as a “whole person”. We don’t believe that the body should be divided into upper and lower extremities and speech. We collaborate between disciplines because each discipline brings a special perspective to the table.

For me, I may be working on a fine motor task during my OT session, but I’ll look to add some extra layers to the treatment. If I have a child working on a fine motor task, I’ll have them stand on a balance board while following the same pictures our SLP uses to assist with transitioning between activities. My ultimate goal is for the patient to complete the fine motor task, but now I’m also challenging the patient in multiple areas to better utilize their therapy session.

This is how a strong, effective therapy session should be set up. At any point, you should be able to ask a therapist “What are you working on?” and they should be able to list off AT LEAST three objectives. Next time you’re in, test us out!

Thanks for reading!

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Occupational Therapy being discussed

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Lauren Gentile, OTRL, Occupational Therapist  When your healthcare professional recommends Occupational Therapy (OT) for you or your loved one, it can be

The decision to seek therapy is not always an easy one. If you're looking for life improvement, we want you know that we've got your back!

We invite you schedule a call If you have further questions regarding OT/PT/SLP services for kids and adults at Crawl Walk Jump Run in Clinton Township