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What is Occupational Therapy? And How Can An OT Help My Child?

Your kiddo doesn’t hold down a job. Sure, maybe they have chores around the house, but that’s not the same thing. So why would they benefit from Occupational Therapy?

We totally get it—at face value, Occupational Therapy seems like an odd and extremely specific area of need.

But, in reality, Occupational Therapists provide a HUGE variety of important therapeutic services to all sorts of children. Fun fact— your child does actually have a job- learning!

Don’t worry—you’re not the first person to not fully understand what an Occupational Therapist (or OT, as they’re commonly called) is qualified to do. Trust us—Every OT is used to explaining what they do for the people they work with.

One OT friend of mine explained it like this—”If you think about it, we all have jobs. Sometimes, your ‘occupation’ simply involves all your activities of daily living.”

These activities of daily living, or ADLs as they’re often abbreviated in the biz, are the purview of your friendly neighborhood Occupational Therapist.

OTs are highly trained in helping a wide range of people improve their ability to perform necessary daily tasks—with enhanced independence, safety, and success.

In the school system, OTs help kids with all kinds of issues that may impact their daily lives and ability to have a full and complete educational experience.

This article will take a look at some of the awesome skills OTs have to offer, and how they can help if your child has some of the needs they’re qualified to assess and treat.

You may be surprised to learn just how MUCH an OT can be of service to your child! It’s a pretty awesome professional field—albeit one that’s often not fully understood.

Let’s dive into clearing that up!

What does an Occupational Therapist do?

Just like their frequent therapeutic counterparts, Speech and Language PathologistsOccupational Therapists do a heck of a lot more than their title suggests.

In a nutshell—Occupational Therapists are focused on addressing issues with balance, coordination, and motor movement.

Ok, sounds good. But what does that really mean?!

It means—OT is your go-to therapy if your child is experiencing difficulty with everyday tasks like writing, getting dressed, self feeding and drinking, even brushing their teeth!

These are important skills for anyone to master. We expect all independent adults to have these skills down. But many kids struggle with the coordination, motor movements, or balance aspects of sequencing and completing these daily tasks. That’s where Occupational Therapy comes in.

OTs are particularly focused on the various fine motor skills that go into completing common everyday tasks. They also pay close attention to the sequences, or steps, of daily routines.

If you think about it, most of our common daily tasks involve multiple steps. Even brushing your teeth can be broken down into a 6-step process—one that must be completed in the correct order to be done right. Wow, right?!

An Occupational Therapist can help your child break down common tasks into manageable parts, assess their ability to perform each step, and make any adjustments or modifications your child needs to support them in completing these tasks independently.

In addition to these more commonly known areas, OTs are skilled to work with emotion regulation and sensory modulation.

Emotion regulation skills include not only the awareness and acceptance of emotions but the ability to flexibly use strategies to meet individualized goals. As a child learns to self-regulate, you will see an increase in their ability to concentrate, share, and take turns. Most children will struggle with managing their emotions and behaviors at some time in their life and this is not always a reason for concern. However, if a child struggles with emotional regulation on a regular basis, it can impact their ability to attend and learn at school.

Sensory modulation refers to how children respond to sensory information and their ability to remain at the appropriate level of alertness to complete daily activities. A child who is over-responsive feels an exaggerated response in their nervous system compared to others. These children might hate the feeling of a tag in their shirt, can present as "picky" eaters who frequently gag when eating different textures of food, or be hesitant to try new activities and movements. Under-responsive children feel a lack or insufficient response to sensory inputs. They might appear to be daydreaming or unfocused in class, have lower endurance than their peers when completing tasks, or appear more difficult to engage in activities. There are also children who are sensory-seeking. These children need intense input to their nervous system in order for it to register. These are the kids that appear to be constantly moving, touching, or crashing into things. They can demonstrate impulsivity, seem clumsy or awkward, and unknowingly hurt someone by being too rough.

Ask any OT—it’s a pretty cool job. And one that most OTs find extremely rewarding. After all, they get to help children to master really important skills—skills that will serve them well for the rest of their lives, as well as throughout their time in school.

What’s the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?

This is an excellent question, and one Occupational and Physical Therapists spend a good deal of time answering.

The truth is—there is some overlap between the services that can be provided by an OT and PT. That’s why many OT and PTs (and SLPs, too!) love collaborating with one another to ensure the treatments they’re providing are robust and holistic.

But, there are important differences that mark these therapies as distinct disciplines.

Occupational Therapy is designed to maximize the ability of an individual to safely, independently, and effectively complete daily tasks. OTs also work to educate families and caregivers of the goals, strategies, and purpose of therapy. And they train caregivers in the ways they can support the child being treated.

OTs focus a lot on fine motor skills, which are the small, intricate, coordinated movements of our hands and wrists that are crucial in the performance of many everyday tasks.

They’re also trained to target motor planning skills, which involve our ability to coordinate a series of movements needed in order to perform and sequence our many activities of daily living. Our motor planning skills help us remember and recreate the movements necessary to complete physical tasks.

Self-care is another important component of the OT’s purview. Unlike the cultural buzzword you see sprinkled everywhere these days—self-care in this respect is our ability to plan, undertake, and effectively perform the daily tasks to take care of our bodies. This includes things like—brushing our teeth and hair, taking a bath or shower, getting dressed, and tying our shoes.

In contrast, Physical Therapy is primarily focused on improving and restoring movement, range of motion, and strength, as well as things like maintaining overall physical functioning and tone and decreasing any pain if it’s present.

OTs and PTs do often work together, as they may be targeting similar skills in different ways. The same goes for OTs and SLPs.

Though these may seem like very different types of therapy—there are some important areas of overlap. Especially when it comes to skills like sequencing and self feeding—OTs and SLPs can really help one another to offer holistic therapy to children in need!

Here at The Loop, we’re blessed to offer both speech and language and occupational therapy services. Our therapists love collaborating to provide the students and families we serve with the highest quality of individualized therapeutic services and supports.

How can Occupational Therapy help kids in school?

We’ve talked a lot about how OTs can help kids with their self-care routines. But how can Occupational Therapists help kids in the school setting?

The short answer is—a LOT!

Your school’s Occupational Therapist can be involved in evaluating and treating students with a wide range of issues that, if left untreated, could negatively impact their school experience.

In the school setting, OTs provide therapy to help children with issues like Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD). This neurodevelopmental issue can impact a kid's ability to learn, plan, and coordinate motor skills.

OTs can work with these children to help them improve their ability to perform the necessary motor tasks involved in a typical school day.

In the school setting, OTs also work with children who struggle with specific skills, including—

  • Handwriting

  • Using items like scissors

  • Tying shoes

  • Using clothing snaps, zippers, and buttons

They’re also focused on—

  • Helping kids and their caregivers to effectively use any assistive devices

  • Helping children use eating utensils and cups for self feeding and drinking

OTs may also work closely with teachers to assess and modify the classroom environment to support students who need additional supports. They may also train teachers and caregivers in the use of assistive devices and technology, if any of these items are deemed appropriate for the student in question.

If your child is in need of OT support, The Loop is proud to offer amazing Occupational Therapy services, which are available right in your child’s school. Our OTs are skilled at assessing and providing quality, individualized therapy to children in the schools we’re honored to serve.

What happens if my child needs occupational therapy?

If your child has been identified by you or a healthcare or educational professional as potentially benefiting from our skilled OT services, the first step will be to set up a time to chat with you.

During this free initial consultation, we’ll listen to your thoughts and concerns, and get to know more about you and your child to see how we can be of service to you.

If an evaluation is warranted and agreed upon, we’ll coordinate with your child’s teacher to find a time to assess them right in the school. Our evaluations may be done all at once or may take place over more than one session and will seek to assess your child’s individual areas of need. This will help us create a therapy plan that’s designed just for them.

The results of our evaluation and our related recommendations for moving forward with treatment will be communicated to you and your child’s educational team in a follow up meeting. We always work to make sure you’re involved at every step of the process—you’re a crucial member of your child’s therapy team.

Your child’s Occupational Therapist will synthesize the results from their assessments with your child’s unique needs and preferences to create a holistic therapy plan that’s focused on helping your child learn and master the skills they need to succeed—both in school and in everyday life.

Our Occupational Therapists also know how to target the skills your child needs to work on, while keeping their sessions engaging and fun. We believe having fun and benefiting from therapy are not mutually exclusive. We want your kiddo to love coming to therapy, and we love celebrating along with you as they reach their goals.

Now that you know what our awesome OTs can do, reach out if you need our help! The Loop is also proud of our amazing team of Speech and Language Pathologists, who love helping the students who need them! You can email us at with any questions. Connect with us on social media @TheLoopSLL, or check out our full website for lots of awesome info and fantastic free materials!

P.S. In addition to our awesome OTs and SLPs, we’re also happy to offer a wide array of learning support services, including—executive function coaching, learning remediation, and educational consultancy and advocacy. We’ve got you covered!

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