Empowering People, Launching lives

Occupations: The building blocks of life

Author: Stefani Hapsi, Occupational Therapist


9th November 2023 | 3 mins read

Occupational Therapy Week (OT Week) is a national awareness raising campaign dedicated to celebrating the life changing power of Occupational Therapy and is taking place between the 6th and the 12th of November. This year’s theme is all about what occupation is in the context of Occupational Therapy and the importance of it in everyone’s lives.  


What is an occupation?  

Occupations are activities that we do every single day, such as getting dressed, playing sport, taking a class, cooking a meal, getting together with friends, and going to work. They refer to anything that we need, want or like to do to live and to look after our physical and mental health, and our emotional and spiritual wellbeing. 

Although work and employment might be an occupation that covers a large amount of our day, occupations are considered to be broad as they refer to any activity that is important to us. It is any activity that gives meaning, purpose and value to our lives and they vary depending on our environment, interests, values, talents and skills.  

As we grow older, our occupations change as they shape who we are and give us our identity. Now take a moment and think about your most meaningful occupations throughout your day, those that you couldn’t live without. For example, for some people preparing a meal might be purely about sustenance while for others it could be a valuable activity as it provides them with a sense of identity. Another example could be a dog owner who walks their dog every day and adds to their identity as a caregiver.   


Why do occupations matter?  

As Occupational Therapists (OTs) we explore what occupations mean to you and then create a plan centered around those meaningful occupations or explore alternatives to help enable access to those. Along with the meaningful occupations, we look at the challenges you face and your environment and ensure that the plan we create is practical, realistic and personal to the individual. As a result, this can give people a renewed sense of purpose and open up new opportunities for occupational participation. 

At BeyondAutism the focus of the OTs with our learners is to maximise occupational engagement and performance by developing underlying skills with the aim to complete larger functional occupations. Functional occupations include dressing, grooming, feeding, handwriting. They are at the centre of our practice as they help build skills of independence, necessary for our learners leading to adulthood. Building these underlying skills of independence are essential in the educational setting as they establish a sense of purpose and fulfilment as well as supporting with physical and emotional development while in a safe environment. 

Along with providing the opportunity to explore new, functional occupations OT’s look at;

  • Changing the way a school task is done
  • Outlining modifications to the environment
  • Recommending or providing equipment
  • Teaching the child, young adult or staff new techniques
  • Developing the learner’s skills and abilities

Play as an occupation

For a child, their main occupations consist of eating, sleeping, toileting, learning, socialising, and arguably one of the most important childhood occupations, play.

Play-based therapy is a structured approach to therapy widely used by Occupational Therapists to engage children in improving functional growth and emotional well-being.

Childhood play is essential for brain development however, it should not end at the childhood stage¹. More and more research suggests that healthy playtime leads to healthy adulthood. While playing, children acquire and practice executive functioning skills, such as planning, initiating, completing, and re-evaluating². Therefore, Occupational Therapists continue to incorporate play in the process of developing more complex skills, such as meal preparation, budgeting or shopping, as the learner moves towards adulthood.


Occupational Therapists are trained to understand the whole person, including physical, mental health, emotional and behavioural needs, and their impact on school life. As a result, OT plays a vital role in a learner’s participation in school routines and enhances engagement in functional tasks through a person-centred approach that incorporates meaningful occupations – the building blocks of life.

For more information and details around the OT Week 2023 please click on the following link from the Royal Collage of Occupational Therapists: Occupational Therapy Week – RCOT. See also their occupations video and reading list.



1. Lynch H, Moore A (2016) British Journal of Occupational Therapy – ‘Play as an occupation in occupational therapy’ Available at:
2. Laverdure P, Beisbier S (2021) Occupation- and activity-based interventions to improve performance of activities of daily living, play, and leisure for children and youth ages 5 to 21: A systematic review, American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 75(1). Available at: Occupation- and Activity-Based Interventions to Improve Performance of Activities of Daily Living, Play, and Leisure for Children and Youth Ages 5 to 21: A Systematic Review | The American Journal of Occupational Therapy | American Occupational Therapy Association (

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