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Going to an Occupational Therapist

Medically reviewed by: Timothy Finlan, MSM, MHS, OTR/L

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Everyone has an occupation, or job, to do. A kid's occupation is to grow, learn, do schoolwork, and play. Occupational therapy (OT) helps kids who have a physical, sensory, or cognitive disability. It helps them do everyday things like eating, putting on shoes and socks, focusing on learning, writing, and playing with toys or other kids.

Occupational therapists create activities that help kids find ways to do things that are hard for them because of an illness or disability.

For example, an OT can help kids with cerebral palsy who may need to use a wheelchair or other equipment so they can go to school.

Occupational therapists also may help children with autism learn how to interact with others. They also might help kids with sensory processing disorders find ways to interact with their environment in a more comfortable and appropriate way.

An occupational therapist also offers aids and equipment like slings or splints to support different parts of the body. They can help you find devices that make it easier to do things like opening a jar, putting your shoes on, or taking a bath or shower.

What Does the Occupational Therapist Do?

If you have OT, the therapist will check how well you can do some kinds of activities compared with other kids your age. The therapist might ask you to write the alphabet, draw some shapes, play some games, tie your shoes, or squeeze a special grip meter to measure how strong you are!

Some occupational therapists will come to your home to see how you handle routine tasks like combing your hair or brushing your teeth. Others will meet you at a hospital or clinic or sometimes even in your school.

OT is different for every person. No two people are alike and no two treatments are the same either.

After figuring out what you want to learn to do, the OT will come up with a plan. Often, that means breaking an activity into several smaller parts. For example, if you want to take a bath you might first learn how to turn on the water, then adjust the temperature, find the soap and towel, and finally, get into the tub. After the plan is made, all it takes is practice, practice, practice.

How Long Will My Treatment Last?

Every kid learns at their own speed, so treatment may last a short time or a long time. Some kids find their needs change as they get older or change schools. They return to the occupational therapist to figure out new ways of coping with problems or to master a new skill.

Kids can help speed up treatment by following the instructions of their occupational therapist. It's important to work hard and practice on your own at home too. Some activities or exercises may look weird but they all have a purpose. If you want to know why your occupational therapist has you doing something, ask, "Why are we doing this, and how will it help me?"

With time and lots of practice, you will see all that hard work pay off.

Medically reviewed by: Timothy Finlan, MSM, MHS, OTR/L
Date reviewed: January 2020