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What is Pediatric Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a health related profession that focuses on enabling people to perform meaningful and purposeful activities and helping achieve independence in all areas of their lives. People generally think that occupational therapy is only for adults; kids, after all, do not have jobs. But children do have “jobs”!  Their occupation is playing and learning, and occupational therapists can evaluate a child’s skills for playing, school performance, and daily activities and compare them with what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.   OT can help children with various needs improve their physical, cognitive, social, and motor skills and in turn enhance their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.

In occupational therapy sessions children often look like they are simply “playing”, which is exactly what the children who are participating think they are doing.  As therapists, we have a variety of tricks to our trade that allow us to tap into a child’s interests to provide challenging therapeutic activities aimed at improving areas of weakness.  OT’s specialize in creating fun and novel opportunities for children to master their goals and achieve greater independence in home, school and within their communities.

With infants and toddlers an OT might work on:
  • Fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys
  • Bilateral hand skills, in order to hold a bottle or other items with two hands
  • Sensory processing and modulation skills in relation to feeding, self-regulation, and sleeping patterns
  • Gross motor development delays
  • Poor strength and decreased muscle tone
  • Feeding difficulties (i.e. chewing, pocketing food inside cheeks, gagging when eating, tolerating different textured food)
  • Recommending developmentally appropriate toys
With pre-school aged children an OT might work on:
  • Fine motor skills related to grasp patterns when holding a crayon, feeding utensils, building with blocks and Legos®, Arts & Crafts activities, using scissors, and manipulating simple clothing fasteners
  • Pre-handwriting and drawing skills using developmentally based strategies
  • Attention to task, for those kids that have a hard time in “circle time” at pre-school and have difficulty engaging in table-top activities
  • Sensory processing and modulation, as related to hyper and decreased sensitivity to sensory input (tactile, movement, sounds, etc)
  • Visual perceptual and visual motor skills, as related to assembling puzzles, catching or kicking a ball, cutting on lines, tracing, forming shapes and letters
  • Poor strength and decreased muscle tone
  • Physical coordination skills needed to navigate playground apparatus, decrease clumsiness, engage in age appropriate classes like gymnastics
  • Environmental adaptations in home and school to help with sensory related difficulties
With school aged children an OT might work on:
  • Acquiring the basic physical foundational skills required for higher-level writing such as gaining adequate hand strength, finger dexterity, in-hand manipulation, and visual motor skills
  • Developing mature grasp patterns when using pencils
  • Improving handwriting habits and letter formation
  • Preparing children for cursive writing
  • Helping kids learn ideation strategies to come up with novel ideas for writing
  • Teaching sensory self-regulation skills to be more effective learners, improve focus and social skills
  • Bilateral hand skills, in order to tie their own shoes and zipper their jacket or button a shirt
  • Visual-motor integration (eye-hand coordination) to improve play skills like hitting a target or copying from a blackboard
  • Physical coordination skills needed to use a computer, increase the speed of their handwriting and legibility, or participate in sports
  • Evaluate a child’s school and home environment and suggest adaptations to help with seating, attention, and sensory difficulties