Occupational therapy (OT) treatment focuses on helping people with a physical,
sensory, or cognitive disability be as independent as possible in all areas of their
lives. OT can help kids with various needs improve their cognitive, physical, sensory,
and motor skills and enhance their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment.
Some people may think that occupational therapy is only for adults; kids, after
all, do not have occupations. But a child's main job is playing and learning, and
occupational therapists can evaluate kids' skills for playing, school performance,
and daily activities and compare them with what is developmentally appropriate for
that age group.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), in addition
to dealing with an someone's physical well-being, OT practitioners address psychological,
social, and environmental factors that can affect functioning in different ways. This
approach makes OT a vital part of health care for some kids.
Kids Who Might Need Occupational Therapy
According to the AOTA, kids with these medical problems might benefit from OT:
help kids work on fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop
good handwriting skills
address hand–eye coordination to improve kids' play and school skills (hitting
a target, batting a ball, copying from a blackboard, etc.)
help kids with severe developmental delays learn basic tasks (such as bathing,
getting dressed, brushing their teeth, and feeding themselves)
help kids with behavioral disorders maintain positive behaviors in all environments
(e.g., instead of hitting others or acting out, using positive ways to deal with anger,
such as writing about feelings or participating in a physical activity)
teach kids with physical disabilities the coordination skills needed to feed themselves,
use a computer, or increase the speed and legibility of their handwriting
evaluate a child's need for specialized
equipment, such as wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices,
or communication aids
work with kids who have sensory and attentional issues to improve focus and social
How Physical Therapy and OT Differ
Although both physical and occupational therapy help improve kids' quality of life,
there are differences. Physical
therapy (PT) deals with pain, strength, joint range of motion, endurance, and
gross motor functioning, whereas OT deals more with fine motor skills, visual-perceptual
skills, cognitive skills, and sensory-processing deficits.
Occupational Therapy Practitioners
There are two professional levels of occupational practice — occupational
therapist (OT) and occupational therapist assistant (OTA).
Since 2007, an OT must complete a master's degree program (previously, only a bachelor's
degree was required). An OTA is only required to complete an associate's degree program
and can carry out treatment plans developed by the occupational therapist but can't
All occupational therapy practitioners must complete supervised fieldwork programs
and pass a national certification examination. A license to practice is mandatory
in most states, as are continuing education classes to maintain that licensure.
Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including:
mental health facilities
Finding Care for Your Child
If you think your child might benefit from occupational therapy, ask your doctor
to refer you to a specialist. The school nurse or guidance counselor also might be
able to recommend someone based on your child's academic or social performance.
You also can check your local yellow pages, search online, or contact your state's
occupational therapy association or a nearby hospital or rehabilitation center for
However you find an occupational therapist for your child, make sure that your
health insurance company covers the program you select./p>