What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy is a client-centered health profession that promotes health and wellbeing through occupation.  Occupations are “everyday activities that people do as individuals, in families and within communities to occupy time and bring meaning and purpose to life” – this includes “things people need to, want to, and are expected to do” (World Federation of Occupational Therapists, 2012).

The primary goal of occupational therapy (OT) is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life – from completing self-help skills like eating to being able to fulfill the roles of being a student or a sibling.

What Are Common Functional Skills & Activities Supported Through Occupational Therapy for Children?

  • Motor development
  • School related skills such as writing, attention, and following directions
  • Play and social participation
  • Daily life skills such as dressing, feeding, sleeping & toileting
  • Eating and mealtime participation
  • Emotional awareness and regulation

What Does Occupational Therapy for My Child Look Like?

If you are considering occupational therapy for your child, you may be curious about what these services may look like.

The evaluation process

When an occupational therapist first meets your child, they will focus on getting a sense of your child’s functional abilities and needs. This will collect information from you as a caregiver about your child’s abilities with daily life skills and activities. What you share will help shape the area of focus on the evaluation, as well as help the therapist begin to get a sense of what daily life looks like for your child and family.  

During the evaluation session, your child’s occupational therapy practitioner will use evaluation tools and observations to understand “the why” of what is impacting your child’s functional abilities. The therapist might observe the specific skill that you are seeking support around, such as writing and eating. They may use their training to assess underlying factors that relate to these functional areas of need. For example, if you are seeking therapy to support your child’s mealtime abilities, your therapist may look at your child’s oral motor skills, posture & breath, and sensory responsiveness as these are critical areas to understand to guide effective and targeted intervention.

Your child’s occupational therapist will share information with you about the results of the evaluation following the evaluation period.   It is at this time your therapist will introduce concepts about what they could work on in therapy to support your child’s unique profile and functional needs.  For many families, this is the first of many conversations of understanding how occupational therapy can support their child, as well as their family. 

Intervention process

If your child’s occupational therapist recommends services following the evaluation, your child can begin receiving participating in ongoing occupational therapy intervention sessions.

A primary focus of therapy sessions is often engaging in activities to promote remediation to support a child’s functional skills.  Rather than simply practicing a skill, a therapist may first focus on activities to promote growth in underlying factors to the child. For example, if a family is seeking services to support their child’s handwriting skills and the evaluation identified posture, visual, and fine motor needs as factors that influence their writing, they may do initially provide activities to engage your child’s core, visual system, and hand musculature to get these foundations “online.” For some goal areas, such as writing, it is likely that your occupational therapist will weave in skill practice to their sessions as your child’s foundational areas develop.

Occupational therapists utilize play-based activities when working with children as a way of promoting growth and development in a meaningful and intrinsically motivating context.  Play based activities are selected to meet each child’s individual goals, needs, and interests. For example, if a child is working on developing their grasp for writing, the therapist might utilize fine motor activities such as pressing and hiding small pegs into Playdoh or playing a game such as Bed Bugs which has large tweezers.  

In addition to remediation focused activities, other potential areas of focus can include developing accommodations & modifications of daily tasks to support your child’s current abilities; developing home program activities; collaboration and education with caregivers.

Each child and family have unique needs and as a result the length of therapy can also be unique.  If you are curious about how long your child may benefit from therapy services, it is best to speak directly to your child’s occupational therapist.

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