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ADLs and IADLs: Occupational Therapy Terms Explained

ADLs and IADLs

If you’ve been to occupational therapy, either for yourself or your kiddo, you’ve likely heard the terms ADLs and IADLs and been left scratching your head. There are so many new terms to learn when you start OT that it can be really overwhelming and make it hard to know what questions to ask.

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) are the basic tasks we need to do everyday to survive, like bathing, eating, and toileting. Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs) are tasks that are more complex like child rearing, shopping, and driving. 

In this post, we’re going to explain what ADLs and IADLs are in a very simple way so that you can feel empowered during treatment. As you’ll see ADLs and IADLs are a fundamental part of OT, so it’s important to have a good grasp of what they are and how they relate to your kiddo’s goals.

The 8 Occupations of Occupational Therapy

As I explained in depth in my occupational therapy post, occupational therapy aims to improve quality of life by increasing independence in daily tasks. “Daily tasks” is very broad and all encompassing, so it’s important that we have a way to break up these daily tasks into various categories. This makes it easier to set goals, organize treatment, and basically keep our heads on straight.

Occupational therapy breaks up our daily tasks into 8 occupational categories as follows:

8 stages of occupation

When you combine these 8 categories, you get a comprehensive view of what we all do every day. Occupational therapists will focus on various categories depending on the settings in which they work and the goals of their clients. For example, a school-based OT is much more concerned with education than an OT working in a hospital who is helping their client return to a job following a car accident.

If your kiddo struggles with occupations because of communication, check out my review of free communication apps for special needs.

What are Activities of Daily Living (ADLs)?

Think of ADLs as those bare necessity activities that we all need to do every day in order to survive. The OT Practice Framework puts the following activities into the category of ADLs:

In many cases, occupational therapists are immediately on the lookout for ADL deficiencies in their clients, as these are skills that are absolutely necessary for daily functioning. While there are exceptions, ADLs are often a top priority for OTs to work on with their clients.

Here are some examples of ADLs that our OTs may work on with our kiddos with sensory processing challenges:

When it comes to working on a kiddo’s ADLs, occupational therapists will often want to involve parents and caregivers as much as possible. Given that these are routine and necessary tasks that need to be completed every day, it’s important that the OT understands what the current routine is and what can done to improve it. Some questions you may hear include:

What are Instrumental Activities of Daily Living (IADLs)?

IADLs take ADLs to the next level. IADLs are more complicated than ADLs and require a higher degree of mental and physical coordination and effort. Don’t worry though, many of the IADLs that the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework identifies would not apply to kiddos until they are much older. Here is what’s included in the category of IADL:

If “care of pet” includes horses, hippotherapy can be a great choice!

IADLs become increasingly important as kiddos get older. While the need for communication management is coming at an earlier and earlier age these days, many IADLs are the focus of treatment for adults or teens coming into adulthood.

That said, OTs are very good at taking unique circumstances into account and will be sure to design treatment plans that meet a kiddo’s needs. If it’s necessary to work on IADLs in order to hit a kiddo’s goals, they’ll definitely do so.  

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Diana Fitts is a certified and licensed Occupational Therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders and autism. Check out my About page to read my story and get a free therapy journal page to record your kiddo’s sessions!

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