Wednesday, April 6, 2011

OT A to Z: F is for Function!

Today...F is for Function!! Function is a word that is near and dear to the heart of OTs. My intuition would say that OTs probably use the word function even more often than they use the word occupation. But, as I learned in preparing this post, function seems to be one of those concepts that we know what it means but is a bit hard to actually articulate.

I fumbled with a few definitions on my own, then consulted some standard documents and texts. Interestingly, the word function readily appears - function, functional activity, functional performance - but an actual definition was elusive. After retrieving dictionary entries of function, this one seemed the most applicable:

The purpose for which something is designed or exists.

I think this really gets to the heart of how we think as OTs...we - as humans - are designed to do. Our ability to do - or to function in our environment - supports our health and is also affected by our health. So when we address function, we are focusing on ways to support a person's ability to do what they need or want to in the context of their daily lives.

So, how do you define function?


  1. Hi

    I've heard via Twitter of an initiative to change our title to functional therapists because supposedly it is easier to explain that occupation. I'm not so sure because I think that intrinsically these are actually really complex terms we are dealing with. Have you heard of this? What do you think?

    I have just finished watching Temple Grandin with Clare Danes - Temple is an amazing woman who designed her own strategies to function in her world. I loved how she needed to use her hug machine before French class (maybe I would have remembered a few words had I had this).

    Another note of caution I would have with this is who defines what our function is in life, the individual or society? I actually think that personally I have moved away from using function and back to talking more about occupational engagement. To me function just seems like a bit of a clinical medical term but this may well just be a personal feeling.

    Thanks again for the insights, looking forward to G and Z!

  2. I have not heard of that, but I will say that function was difficult to define so I don't know if we would be better served by such a change. I agree - the things we address are complex and varied, all of which poses some challenges in coveying what it is we address.I do think you are right that using occupational engagement is a preferable route.

    And you are absolutely right - who determines function? It makes me think of the position stated by many disability advocates (to which many OT would also agree) - the problem does not lie in the person but rather in the environment that is inaccessible to them.