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Background of the Visual Activity Sort

Updated: Jan 16, 2023

So what is the Visual Activity Sort & How did it get started?



Hello! My name is Katie O'Day. I am the creator of the Visual Activity Sort (VAS).


In 2011, I was an occupational therapy student at Pacific University tasked with completing a capstone course titled: Innovative Practice Projects and was partnered with a local non-profit, Outside In. Outside In is located in downtown Portland, Oregon and since it began in 1968 its mission is to support youth experiencing homelessness and other marginalized individuals as they move toward improved health and self-sufficiency. Driven to meet the changing needs of those it helps, the agency has created an all-inclusive and integrated system of cutting edge and sometimes controversial wraparound services that has transformed and saved thousands of lives over the years.


As an occupational therapy student I could see this organization as an opportunity to support marginalized at-risk youth, BUT I could not find a tool that would be fun and engaging to use with the youth. With this population already facing many struggles including limited resources, limited parental support and overall limited support from society I wanted to develop a tool that was affirming to the individual. I leaned into the youth who were accessing services there to get their input on what they feel are meaningful activities and how they like to receive therapy support.



I wanted to create a tool that could not only help identify the problems that youth were facing BUT also consider the strengths and supports in their lives. It was created and developed as a strengths-based tool!


Unlike the medical model suggests, we don't need to focus on the negative things or use a deficit-based approach with our clients. The evidence in research is telling us that marginalized, neurodiverse, and autistic youth benefit from utilizing different approaches including focusing on strengths and resiliency.


The VAS utilizes activity cards that are categorized based on the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework 4th edition; including: leisure/recreation, social participation, school, work, instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), activities of daily living (ADLs) and health management.


Some cards included may represent some unhealthy activities but these are activities that many participate in, like drinking alcohol and managing vaping/drug use. During adolescence youth are inherently discovering their own identity and select activity cards were included to help with affirming their true identities such as gender exploration and exploring sexual identity, etc.


The client is asked to sort the activities into categories: do not want to do, don't want to do but have to do, do okay, want to improve, and want to explore. Next the activity cards that are selected are narrowed down to 7-10 activities and analyzed to explore the individual's participation, motivation, satisfaction and competence with a simple 0-2 rating scale for each.


Throughout the VAS assessment there are opportunities to build rapport with clients & get to know them. There is also ample opportunity to build an occupational profile with the client looking at supports and barriers to their participation in daily life activities.


Finally and most importantly . . . in collaboration with the client, meaningful and just-right goals are created for the client to work toward and a therapy plan is developed.

Let's look at strengths...not just problems!


What do you find useful in assessment and intervention tools for children, adolescents, young adults, etc.?


Keep an eye out for more. There are some exciting endeavors happening behind the scenes!

Thanks so much for you interest and support with our communities!


Katie O'Day MOT, OTR/L

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