What is Occupational Therapy for Children?

Occupational Therapy is often abbreviated as "OT". The confusing part about OT is the word "occupation". Children don't work or have a job? Actually, a child has a job just like we do. Their job is to learn, play, make friends and go to school. If a child has a disability or delay this can significantly impact their ability to engage in these "jobs". This is when an OT will be involved and provide intervention to help the child and their families. 

OT's use a holistic approach to their practice. They focus on wellness, managing chronic neurological or developmental conditions, improving function and supporting independence. So the child can participate in their everyday life with their families and lead happy and meaningful lives. 

Paediatric OTs work with children themselves and their team which will include parents/ caregivers. It may also include Doctors, Speech Pathologists, Teachers and Psychologist. OTs can work in a variety of settings to support your child. They can work in clinics, hospitals, schools, in the community etc. OT will provide tailored intervention for each child's specific needs, their strength and challenges.They will develop the best possible way to improve your child's functional skills, help your child find other ways of doing task that are difficult and/or use tools to make performing activities easier.  

Developmentally children learn through play. So often Paediatric OTs are specialist in using Play in their intervention to facilitate change and skill acquisition. Children are highly motivated when they are playing and having fun - so skills improve much more quickly when a combination of fun and therapeutic intervention is combined. Research evidence has indicated that through play the child's brain makes more connective pathways so it's natural for you to watch a Paediatric OT session and see lots of playing. But don't worry everything a children's OT does in a session is with purpose and is part of helping your child achieve those goals. 

Therapy may consist of direct exercises and activities to build specific skills that are weak - OTs may play games, use toys, crafts and other sensory motor exercises. Intervention can be provided in a specialised therapy room with sensory equipment. Using therapy techinques they will create opportunities in structured or adaptive manners to engage your child, their minds and body to promote development in different areas. They will collaborate with parents and caregivers. Parents can participate in sessions, sometimes this may not be possible and OTs can support with follow up activities for reinforcement and carryover of skills at home. 

The earlier a child starts OT, the more effective it tends to be. There are lots of research evidence supporting early intervention and how it can improve a child's overall development. In simple terms, when the child is younger their interactions with therapy will more likely make lasting neural changes and connections, so treatments have a better chance of being effective in the longer term. OTs will also be able to support parents early on how to help their child. 

Occupational Therapist are highly trained and have to complete a degree or masters at University level to qualify. Most OTs will also have further certification and specialist skills in different areas. Depending on what your child would benefit from it is important to do some investigating in the therapy approach your child's therapist uses. Whether that may be Motor Learning & Skill Acquisition, Ayres Sensory Integration, Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship Based Model (DIR Floortime), Behavioural Approach or Protocols. They may use one or a combination of these Therapy frameworks. 


The World Federation of Occupational Therapists provides the following definition of Occupational Therapy:

“Occupational therapy is as a profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by enabling people to do things that will enhance their ability to participate or by modifying the environment to better support participation.”


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