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Top Tips for Functional Capacity Assessments

When it comes to Functional Capacity Assessments, there can be a lot of confusion around when to get one, how often, where to go and so many more unanswered questions. We've pulled together our top five tips to make sure that you have all the information you need to know about Functional Capacity Assessments.

Man in wheelchair with OT physical therapist

What is a functional capacity assessment?

Before we get into the top tips, it’s important to know what a functional capacity assessment (FCA) is and how it relates to your NDIS plan.

An FCA works to determine your current level of functioning, your strengths and weaknesses, how you manage on a day-to-day basis, and it can help to identify any challenges or gaps that may need to be addressed. After having an FCA, your occupational therapist (OT) or other specialised health professional can make recommendations based on the assessment outcomes that can be used as supporting evidence of your funding needs when applying to the NDIS as well as in future plan reviews.

It’s very important to know that FCA’s are fundamentally different from the Independent Assessments (IA) proposal that was scrapped in 2021. One of the key reasons FCA’s and IA’s are sometimes confused is because both use standardised assessments. During an FCA, standardised assessments are used as a secondary measure to back up the assessments and observations made by an OT health professional. The primary focus is on observation, assessments of numerous tasks, reporting, feedback, and bringing all the observations together to create an FCA report. An FCA can often take 10-12 hours to complete over multiple sessions. Whereas with the proposed IA’s, the primary focus was standardised assessments, 20 minutes of observation and a minimum of one task assessed. Needless to say, FCA’s provide better insights, more details, and a fuller picture of a person’s capacity alongside the benefit that you can choose your own OT assessor rather than having one assigned to you.

Tip #1 Knowing when to get an FCA

When applying for the NDIS, you need to submit an Access Request which includes providing supporting information regarding your disability, your current supports and support needs, as well as any other supporting evidence you have that has been provided by health professionals. This could include an FCA, however it is not necessary to obtain this for your NDIS Access Request.

The reason an FCA is not considered necessary is partially because it can be a very costly process to undergo. While it might assist you in getting the funding you need, there is no guarantee that it would have any impact on your allocated funding and paying for an FCA out of pocket is not affordable for most people.

You do have the option of doing an FCA after your planning meeting or plan review meeting. If you would like to have an FCA, discuss this with your Local Area Coordinator (LAC) or NDIA planner during your planning meeting or plan review meeting so they can note that you would like additional funding added to your NDIS plan to have an FCA completed.

Tip #2 Finding the right functional capacity assessor

When searching for an OT assessor to complete your FCA, you can ask for a referral from your general practitioner (GP) doctor as they will already have a base knowledge of your needs and are likely to recommend someone that would be a compatible choice for you.

It’s important to note, that you do not need a GP referral letter to see an OT assessor for an FCA. Another option that you can explore is finding an OT assessor yourself. MyCareSpace have a great list of OT’s that perform FCA’s, which you can view here. All you need to do is fill in your postcode or suburb and you will be directed to OT assessor options in your area. The website outlines who can provide evidence of functional impairment in relation to the six domains listed in the NDIS Act and what assessments are deemed best practices for a range of disabilities.

You should always choose an OT assessor that best matches your support needs but it's important to note that not all OT's have decided to practice and develop their skills in FCAs. So, when choosing an OT assessor it is essential to choose someone who specialises in FCA skills.

Remember, you can request funding in your NDIS plan for an FCA. You do not need to spend money out-of-pocket to have this done prior to applying for the NDIS.

Tip #3 Be prepared

An FCA can be a bit of a lengthy process that can be done in one longer session or be spread out over multiple sessions. How long the FCA takes will depend on the complexity of your situation and the amount of funding that has been allocated for an FCA in your NDIS plan (if you opted to have the assessment done after the commencement of your NDIS plan).

The FCA can be done at home, in a clinic, another environment within the community, by phone or via video chat. The OT assessor doing the assessment will take into consideration your age, disability, and any other important factors.

Your OT assessor will explore your:

  • Management of daily tasks like showering, dressing, toileting, personal hygiene, sleep, nutrition etc. and if there are any challenges that may be impacting your ability to complete these tasks

  • Home management skills like meal preparation, shopping, cleaning, laundry, household budgets and bills etc. and any challenges within your current living situation and supports

  • Community management abilities like accessing shops, banks, attending medical or health related appointments etc. and how you manage this with driving, public transport or supported transport access

  • Work and study abilities and whether there are any challenges you experience or short- or long-term goals you would like to set

  • Recreational and social engagement skills like exercise, craft, art, music etc. and how your ability to engage may be impacted, as well as whether you want to engage and your confidence in engaging socially in the community

When your FCA is complete, your OT assessor will finalise the Functional Assessment report with a summary of your current functional abilities and recommendations for ongoing support, as well as any therapy or Assistive Technology (AT) options that may increase your independence and help you to achieve your goals. Your FCA can then be used as supporting evidence in your future plan review meetings or for an early plan review, to help ensure that you have the funding that you need.

Tip #4 Review your FCA

When your FCA is complete, it’s important to review the assessment that has been provided. Although the OT assessors should cover everything, reviewing it can help to prevent you or your OT assessor missing any key information. If something is missing, you can provide more information or request another session with your assessor to address those gaps. It’s also a good idea to let your assessor know if you are having a good, average, or bad day when you are having your FCA completed. If the impact of your disability fluctuated from good to bad days, sharing this information can help to ensure that your report is balanced and doesn’t just focus on the good or bad. Your FCA should provide an accurate representation of you and your needs.

Sometimes it can be overwhelming to review your FCA, as there may be some assessments made by the OT that were unexpected or surprising for you. If you feel this way, you can always reach out for support from your family, friends, disability advocates etc. to work through reviewing the FCA before sending it to the NDIA.

Tip #5 How often do I need an FCA?

When it comes to an FCA, some people have them completed regularly (i.e., with every plan review) while others have never had one at all. But the real question is, how often do you actually need an FCA? The NDIA has not yet provided any definitive answer to the question. However, based on the information that was put forward regarding the frequency of IA's when they were proposed, it is safe to say that once you have had your initial FCA, having another FCA roughly every five years would be reasonable. However, if there have been any significant changes in your circumstances or capacity, you should seek to have an FCA completed so that it accurately represents your current circumstances.

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