What is Pediatric Occupational Therapy (OT)?
Updated: Nov 13
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Many people don’t know what an occupational therapist does. Especially, when it pertains to kids. When I used to work in children’s hospitals, the most frequent reply I would get when introducing myself as an OT was: “they’re a child, they don’t have a job!”
While a “job” is one type of occupation, it is not the only occupation. Occupational therapists help people, and children, be independent in the things they want to do every day. The activities we do every day are our occupations (AOTA, 2014). For kids, the most common occupations include playing, eating, dressing, toileting, grooming, sleep, and school. To put OT more simply, we help children decrease the barriers to doing what they want to do (or what their parents want them to do).
To help them get there, we address certain performance skills. Here are some of the most common skills and examples we address (Case-Smith & O'Brien, 2010):
- Fine motor skills: These are the skills needed to complete movements with the muscles of your hands. For example, picking up cheerios, holding a fork, opening a sandwich bag, and holding a pencil.
- Bilateral coordination: This skill addresses coordinating the two sides of your body to work together. For example, clapping, opening a jar with two hands, or doing jumping jacks.
- Visual motor skills: This is when our brain integrates what our eyes see or perceive, in order to complete movements. For example, throwing a ball at a target, cutting with scissors, and copying shapes.
- Strength: Keeping our muscles strong is an important part of completing our occupations. A strong core/abdomen is also important for using our arms, legs, and hands.
- Arousal/Sensory Regulation: In order for us to control our body our sensory systems must be organized. We have 7 senses: auditory (hearing), vestibular (movement), visual (seeing), olfactory (smelling), gustatory (taste), proprioception (knowing where our body is in space), and tactile (touch). OTs can help children organize these senses so they can better interact with their environment.
- Endurance: This is commonly known as “stamina.” Children need endurance to participate in their favorite sports, and even walk around school and the neighborhood. OTs can help increase endurance by carefully picking activities that are challenging, but not too challenging. The goal would be to get the child participating in activities for longer periods of time without getting too tired.
- Motor planning: This is the ability to plan a movement in our head and then carry it out. For example, motor planning is needed for jumping jacks, obstacle courses, and even sports.
Some people think that pediatric occupational therapists only work with children who have neurological diagnoses (like autism or cerebral palsy). We do work with these populations, but we can also really help children who have been diagnosed with overweight and obesity, eating disorders, developmental delay, coordination disorder, and mental health diagnoses.
Even if a child does not have a diagnosis, but is experiencing a disruption in their occupations, we can help! If you have any questions about occupational therapy, or how it can help, you can always contact me at Samantha@theot4me.com or direct message me on any of my social channels. You can also find out more about our services at https://www.theot4me.com/services.
1. American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68, S1–S48. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006
2. Case-Smith, J. & O'Brien, J. (2010). Occupational Therapy for Children (Sixth Ed.). Mosby Elsevier.
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