Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

April 28, 2014

Occupational Therapy and Activity Analysis

The American Occupational Therapy Association ( is celebrating Occupational Therapy Month in April.  It seems like the perfect time to explore our history and review one facet that makes this profession unique.

An activity analysis is the process of breaking down a task by looking at physiological functions and requirements to perform the task while taking into account the environment, cognitive abilities, and much more. Activity analyses began with engineers during the industrialization era to ensure efficiency of workers’ movements by simplifying the work and reducing fatigue. It evolved during World War 1, when wounded soldiers returned home from war. Occupational therapists began recommending specific activities to the soldiers based on their movement abilities and limitations. Usually this centered on a rehabilitative approach for increasing range of motion or regaining skill. Occupational therapists prescribed weaving or lacing projects to increase rang of motion, or they adapted the way a patient performed an activity to increase success. It was during the mid-late 1900s that occupational therapists began incorporating cognitive, emotional, and social elements into activity analyses.

 As a pediatric occupational therapist, I work with children with many different abilities. An activity analysis is conducted when planning interventions, and recommending home programs. It is recognized as a vital component of occupational therapy as it provides exercise and practice in the specific areas that the child needs to address. There are also times that activity analyses are used to find the best way for a child to complete a task. An example is deciding which grasp is the most efficient for a child, and if a gripper on the pencil will modify the grasp in a way that will benefit the child.

Today, when you see an occupational therapist working on throwing and catching with a child, know that there is a plethora of areas that the therapist could be targeting.

Let‚Äôs look at an example of picking up a ball to throw it at a target. The child will need to:         

Visually attend to the ball

Maintain a stabile base of support while reaching for the ball

Rotate the trunk

Grasp the ball

Flex the wrist

Flex the shoulder

Extend the wrist

Maintain attention to the task

Demonstrate visual motor coordination to hit the target

And the list goes on…

As you can see, an occupational therapist may have a child participate in this activity to address one area for one child, and the same task could be completed to target a different area with a different child.

Creighton, C. (). The Origin and Evolution of Activity Analysis. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 46, 45-48.