5 Occupational Therapy Ideas Using Household Items

Staff Writer
Apr 22, 2022

Occupational therapy assistants have one of the most creative jobs in the healthcare field. They customize treatments for each specific patient, so no two days are ever the same. If you’re someone who loves coming up with out-of-the-box solutions to everyday challenges, becoming an OTA might be the right career choice for you.

One of the most interesting things about occupational therapy assisting is its ingenuity regarding the use of tools. Many OT and OTA tools are specifically designed for the purposes of helping patients practice movements that will help them live their lives to the fullest regardless of physical or cognitive differences.

But many tools are improvised with common items you probably already have laying around the house. Here are a few creative solutions for occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants using such items.

1. For sensory processing: zip-top bags

Some OT patients are learning or relearning how to differentiate between various textures, hardnesses, temperatures, and other tactile variables. One way to experiment with sensory processing is to fill several zip-top bags with substances that have unique physical qualities. You can use any brand of kitchen baggies, but make sure the ones you choose won’t leak even when held upside-down or pressed with substantial force. On that note, make sure not to overfill them. Some items that are fun to experiment with are also easily found around the house. Try rice, lentils, marshmallows, shaving cream, or anything else with a noteworthy texture.

2. For pediatric patients: rings and pipe cleaner

This tip is great for anyone wanting to help their pediatric patients in the development of fine motor skills like grasping, guiding, and pinching. Instruct the child to thread a pipe cleaner through Cheerios or any other small, circular items. Edible items, though, mitigate swallowing risks for very small children who are still likely to put foreign objects in their mouths. The repetitive process of stacking the small items, along with the bendable quality of the pipe cleaner, produces an array of various practice scenarios for both hands in coordination.

3. For geriatric patients: playing cards

Playing cards might not be quite so popular among millennials and other younger generations, but geriatric patients are likely to have a favorite card game that brings back fond memories. Card games, while also incorporating a strong social element through the conversation that develops naturally between two players, also has quite a few physical and cognitive benefits. It stimulates memory, employs critical thinking and strategy, and also requires fine motor skill practice with the holding, reaching, and even shuffling involved.

4. For patients with autism: art supplies

The sky’s the limit when it comes to the types of art supplies that can help autistic patients express themselves and engage with their OTs and OTAs. Some examples of art supplies that are generally easy to keep around the house are colored pencils, crayons, charcoal pencils, pens, modeling clay, and magic markers.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t get creative with slightly unexpected tools. And your home-derived art supplies don’t need to be expensive, either. You can use scissors and thick cardstock to create stencils for simple screenprinting projects. Old T-shirts are great for cutting up and braiding sections or making other sorts of expressive textile work. If you became an occupational therapy assistant for the field’s immense creative possibilities, now is your time to shine.

5. For grip practice: tennis balls and pool noodles

From stroke recovery to prosthetic limb practice, there are a lot of instances in which grasping a thin object, such as a toothbrush, fork, paint brush, or hair brush, proves too hard to be feasible at first. Puncture a tennis ball and push these objects through. That way, your patient can grip the tennis ball rather than the item itself. Pool noodles cut into small sections make this an even more customizable hack: You can alter the size of the pool noodle piece to become the perfect fit for your patient’s hand.

These are a few of the various occupational therapy tools available to you just by searching around your home, but the possibilities are endless.

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