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The Difference Between Habilitation and Rehabilitation

Nov 14th, 2022 | by Lisa Murphy OTD, OTR/L, SWC

Lisa Murphy OTD, OTR/L, SWC

November 14th, 2022

Although they are often used in conjunction, there is a difference between habilitation and rehabilitation. Physical, occupational, and speech therapies utilize both habilitative and rehabilitative approaches to enable persons with disabilities to attain and maintain maximum independence, in all aspects of life.


Habilitation refers to a process aimed at helping individuals with disabilities attain, keep, or improve skills and functioning for daily living. For pediatric patients, habilitative therapy often aims to help a child develop motor skills that they have yet to accomplish.

For example, a child with cerebral palsy may require the assistance of a physical therapist to learn how to sit.  Or another child may need speech therapy to learn how to say their R sounds. Because both of these are skills that the children have yet to accomplish, the aim of the therapy is habilitation.  


Rehabilitation refers to regaining skills, abilities, or knowledge that may have been lost or compromised as a result of illness, injury, or acquiring a disability.

For example – a 30-year-old man who is an active runner trips over a rock and injures his ankle. Due to his injury, this man is unable to walk or run without limping and seeks the help of a physical therapist to be able to walk and run as he did before. The aim of this therapy is considered rehabilitation, helping this man regain a lost skill.  

Habilitation vs. Rehabilitation: Summary

Rehabilitation focuses on restoring skills that have been lost due to injury or illness, while habilitation helps children attain skills that have not yet developed or emerged due to developmental delays or disabilities. We hope you found this comparison of habilitation vs. rehabilitation helpful.

Habilitation Therapy & Rehabilitation Therapy at NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to habilitation therapy and rehabilitation therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs habilitative therapy, rehabilitation physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech, or feeding therapy, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. 

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About the Author 

Lisa, an occupational therapist, is NAPA’s Global Director of Rehabilitation and a 10-year NAPA veteran. When she’s not treating or mentoring, you can catch her exploring her new hometown Denver and hiking with her family.   

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