Ask an Expert: Occupational Therapist Amber Ward

Ask an Expert: Occupational Therapist Amber Ward
Hi there Slick Chicks fam! As a quick reminder, the purpose of the Ask an Expert series is to provide a direct connection between our community and experts in fields such as occupational therapy, psychology, and gynecology. 
Our first expert of the Ask an Expert series is Amber Ward. Amber Ward is an occupational therapist with over 28 years of experience working with persons with ALS, muscular dystrophies, MS, and other neurological disorders. Amber is highly accredited in her field and presents both locally and internationally about her research in the occupational therapy realm. Since our first introduction of the series, we received great questions from our community for Amber. Read on to learn more about how to find the right occupational therapist, dressing aids, the many benefits of occupational therapy, and more! 
DISCLAIMER: The educational content provided by the experts of the "Ask an Expert" series are for informational purposes only. All content on the "Ask an Expert" series is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a substitute for personalized medical advice. We encourage you to review all information in regards to topics covered in the series with your primary physician prior to implementing anything new into your daily routine. Slick Chicks resumes no responsibility for the accuracy or perception of information in this series and such information is subject to change.
How is your type of OT different from OT for neurodivergent people? 
OT is one of those professions which is endlessly varied in the details of the day to day work. I work with kids and adults with neurological and degenerative diseases in an outpatient clinic, where the focus is often compensation and adaptation to keep performing desired tasks as weakness or other issues increases over time. Lots of adaptations with equipment, tricks, and tools. For those of you who don’t know, neurodivergent people are those who learn, think, process, and perceive information differently from what society expects. OT for neurodivergent people may include enhancing strengths to support success, using adaptive strategies and technology, adjusting environments to support learning and integration, and supporting self-advocacy.  
How can those with disabilities benefit from occupational therapy? 
Since OT focuses on ways to perform, improve, adapt and/or modify a person’s desired daily tasks (occupations) after new or ongoing disabling issues, this can be a broad and varied discussion about the benefits of OT. Since OT is different for each person, it can be a bit tricky to define. I will give examples to illustrate: positioning and bracing for a baby in the NICU; engaging in play with siblings for a child who has cerebral palsy; performing a power wheelchair evaluation for a young man with muscular dystrophy who cannot walk; rehabilitating a weaker limb after a stroke; helping to return to work tasks after an amputation; training on life-skills with high school graduation for a young man with autism; performing hand therapy after carpal tunnel surgery. This is just a very small set of the multiple ways a person could benefit from OT at any age and any condition. See for more information on OT.
How should one go about finding the right occupational therapist for them?  
This answer is trickier. I would suggest talking to others with the same diagnoses or concerns (support groups, online, etc.) or friends/family/neighbors for potential options. Some physicians work closely with OT or have heard other clients speak of successes. Sometimes starting with calling one OT practice and getting suggestions for others if that person cannot help. I have tons of OTs in my community who I know and can refer to. The state OT associations may have options as well.
What dressing aids would you recommend for someone with limited mobility and hand use? 
This would be a perfect opportunity to get a doctor’s referral to an OT to address these issues as OT is a covered service with most insurances. Sometimes people just need a few ideas and gadgets. Remember, OT can be home health or outpatient (as well as in hospital, nursing homes, schools, etc.) and with a doctor’s referral, could do an evaluation and then work on your goals with you. OT is not just for rehabilitation after a larger injury or illness. There are different tricks, depending on what the mobility limitations are- if balance and fatigue, maybe a shower seat, a bed rail, or a stool in the kitchen. If thumb weakness, maybe small pliers for packaging, key turner, adaptive shoelaces, and altering buttons to Velcro or magnets. If hand weakness, adapted clothing such as from Slick Chicks, options for a different pen, typing/using mouse options, jar/bottle openers, and electric toothbrush.
Please provide tips for accepting diagnosis and making life easier with mobility and pain. 
Someone with a life-altering diagnosis may go through the stages of grief just like a person after a death in the family. Talking to someone- friend, professional counselor, church pastor, or others with a similar situation at a support group can help. Another way to make life easier is to talk to an OT about what things are possible to continue doing, maybe in an altered way or with a tool. For example, if golfing 18 holes the standard way is impossible, consider riding along in the cart to keep score and harass friends, host a golf tournament party at your home, teach grandkids how to putt, or use an adapted club or cart. For other tasks such as meal preparation, getting pre-chopped items, electric can opener, sit to prep, lightweight pans, and other options may help. Consider mobility options to increase safety and distance you can go (scooter, wheelchair, walker) and maybe help pain and fatigue as well; and OT or physical therapist could help. There are OTs who specialize in chronic pain management, and work with clients on mindfulness, relaxation, massage, and many other techniques to help get through the day and be as active as possible.
If you have any questions for Amber or to just simply say hi, please message her directly via Facebook

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