What is Occupational Therapy, or “OT”?

putting-on-socksOccupational Therapy (OT) is another service that is available to help your child. OT can help your child adapt to all of his daily life activities. For babies and toddlers, it is part of early intervention services; for kids ages 3 and up, it is part of Related Services.

You may be familiar with OT as the therapy older friends or family members received after they had a stroke. This is true, but OT has many other facets and can be very helpful for babies, toddlers, children and even teens.

OT can help your child with all of his activities of daily living, or “ADLs,” such as dressing, eating, socializing, etc. But it can do more… Therapists can help your child adapt to the rigors of school – from being able to sit in a chair and hold a pencil to making friends. They help children who have sensory issues (to light, sounds, and other stimuli) become more comfortable in their surroundings. OTs provide creative ways for your child to be successful, such as recommending adaptive equipment and providing training on the use of the equipment. They can guide your child’s teachers and work with your family to ensure a smooth transition from the therapy session to school and home life.

What else can OT do?

A great place to go for more information about OT services is CPIR. They say: “OT services can enhance a child’s ability to function in an educational program and may include such services as:
• self-help skills or adaptive living (e.g., eating, dressing);
• functional mobility (e.g., moving safely through school);
• positioning (e.g., sitting appropriately in class);
• sensory-motor processing (e.g., using the senses and muscles);
• fine motor (e.g., writing, cutting) and gross motor performance (e.g., walking, athletic skills);
• life skills training/vocational skills; and
• psychosocial adaptation.”
OTs help children who have different disabilities or conditions, including autism, ADHD, cerebral palsy, sensory impairments and emotional disorders.

How do you get OT services for your child?

If you feel that your child would benefit from OT, you can ask that he be evaluated. In prior posts, I outlined how to have your child evaluated for free (through the early intervention program for babies and toddlers or the school based program for kids ages 3 and older). If your child qualifies, services will be provided to him (usually at no cost to you).

Where do OT services take place?

Services can be provided in a number of settings: your home, a hospital, an OT office, at school, etc. It all depends on your child’s individual needs. If he is in school, most OTs advocate that services be provided in the regular education classroom. This way your child remains a part of the class, and the teacher can see how the skills that the OT is teaching can be integrated into the classroom. If your child remains in the classroom, he will not miss important classroom activities or feel left out. But, the place where therapy is held should be decided by the OT, parents and teachers as a team.

Where can you learn more specific info about OT?

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the professional credentialing organization, has a series of short tip sheets that illustrates how OT can help children in many situations (home, school, community). Here are topics that I recommend:

Child Development (what OT’s can do for your child, you and your family)
Transitions for Children and Youth – How OT Can Help. This fact sheet lists all the ways that OT can help a child in everyday life, including aiding in the transitions from early intervention to a preschool program, to elementary school, and all the way to adulthood.

Learning Through Play
Building Play Skills for Healthy Children and Families
How to Pick a Toy: Checklist for Toy Shopping

Living with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) – The Preschool Child
Help Students with Autism Achieve Greater Success in Academic Performance and Social Participation 

Enjoying Halloween with Sensory Challenges 

Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students

Is Your Child Positioned for School Success?
School Tips for Parents: Academic Success & Social Participation
Occupational Therapy Tips for Health & Success in School
Occupational Therapy Tips for Homework


Will my child like OT?

Most parents report that children love their OT sessions. If your child has sensory issues, the therapy is often so enjoyable that the children don’t want the session to end. Since most OT therapy is play based and creative, children have so much fun they don’t even realize they are receiving “therapy.”

If your child receives OT services, we’d love to hear about your experiences.

Have questions? Send them to AskUs@marchofdimes.org.

Note: This post is part of the weekly series Delays and disabilities – how to get help for your child. It appears every Wednesday, and was started on January 16, 2013. Feel free to go back to look at prior posts as the series builds on itself. As always, we welcome your comments and input.