What is Occupational Therapy?

Posted by

Jasmine Ou, MA, OTR/L

Time to read

2 minutes

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapists (OT) collaborate with professionals and parents/caregivers to identify and meet the needs of children experiencing delays or challenges in development. Occupational therapists identify and modify barriers that interfere with functional performance. An OT will provide parent/caregiver resources and skills to use in the home/community, adapt activities, materials, and environmental conditions to allow children to participate across all settings.

What is a child’s “occupation”?

A child’s “occupations” are the activities that enable them to learn and develop life skills, such as playing, learning, and interacting with caregivers/peers.² Occupational therapist promote function and engagement of children and their families in everyday routines. Areas addressed by early intervention occupational therapy include activities of daily livingrest and sleepplayeducation, and social development. Occupational therapists focus on participation, age-appropriate development, and family engagement in natural environments environments.

Examples of occupational interventions:²

  • Self-care skills (e.g. dressing, shoe tying, brushing teeth, grooming and hygiene)
  • Feeding (e.g. accepting a variety of different foods, oral motor skills, feeding, drinking, using utensils)
  • Fine motor skills (e.g. handwriting, grasp, buttoning, opening a bottle cap)
  • Gross motor skills (e.g. safely navigating the environment, facilitating movement to sit, crawl, or walk independently,
  • Self-regulation (e.g. coping with disappointment or failure, demonstrating appropriate levels of energy, )
  • Transitions 
  • Sensory Differences (e.g. auditory, tactile, movement sensitivities or under responses)
  • Attention 
  • Social skills (e.g. sharing, turn taking, play with peers, playing in creative ways)
  • Organizational skills (e.g. time management)

Who needs occupational therapy?

Children experiencing delays or challenges in development may qualify for occupational therapy. Ask your child’s pediatrician if occupational therapy could help benefit your child.

Some common diagnoses that occupational therapists work with:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Auditory Processing & Reading Difficulties
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
  • Cerebral Palsy (CP)
  • Developmental Delays
  • Down Syndrome
  • Feeding Difficulties & Aversions
  • Genetic Conditions
  • Gross and Fine Motor Delays
  • Hypotonia/Hypertonia
  • Neurological Conditions
  • Sensory Processing Disorder
  • Social Skills Deficits
¹ The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (2017) Retrieved ON NOVEMBER 19, 2017 from https://www.aota.org
² American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain & process (3rd ed.). American Journal of
Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48. http://dx.doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

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