Frames of meaning: An analysis of occupational therapy evaluations of young children

Janice Posatery Burke, University of Pennsylvania


An occupational therapy evaluation of a young child is a complex interaction involving the therapist, child, and parent. The interaction is made up of verbal and nonverbal constituents. As with all human interaction, people bring their own understandings and experiences to the specific event. During evaluation sessions occupational therapists, children and parents use communication behaviors such as talking, nodding, moving, gesturing, and looking. How the therapist, child, and parent communicate with one another is based on their ability to recognize, interpret, and respond to each other's verbal and nonverbal signals. The purpose of this research was to describe the kinds of verbal and nonverbal behaviors that were used by four pediatric occupational therapists during evaluation sessions and to explore how those behaviors were used to construct and organize the interaction. Interviews, observations, and videotapes were used to identify and define the different verbal and nonverbal strategies employed by therapists during the evaluations. Information from these sources was then used to investigate the differences and similarities among the therapists. Findings indicated that therapists used a range of verbal and nonverbal behaviors during the evaluations. These behaviors clustered into two distinct profiles that reflected the therapist's intent for the interaction. The profiles were characterized as the medical model approach and the occupation model approach. Therapists who used a medical model to guide their verbal and nonverbal behaviors focused on the specific pathology that was present in the children, were procedurally oriented, asked fewer questions of the parents, and spent less time looking at, directly facing, and interacting with parents. Therapists who used an occupation model were less concerned with the medical diagnosis and physical deficits, and focused more on the needs of the children in regard to everyday life roles, asked parents questions about daily living, and spent more time looking at, directly facing, and interacting with them.

Subject Area

Communication|Rehabilitation|Therapy|Educational sociology|Educational psychology|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Developmental psychology

Recommended Citation

Burke, Janice Posatery, "Frames of meaning: An analysis of occupational therapy evaluations of young children" (1997). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9727199.