Occupational therapy (OT) is a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation. The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. OT works on the skills kids need to do the things they struggle with, from zipping their coat to reading and writing.
OT works to improve fine and gross motor skills. It can also help kids who struggle with self- regulation and sensory processing. An occupational therapist will start by assessing a child’s strengths and weaknesses. They will work with the child to find out what tasks they have difficulty with and will liaise with teachers and parents to gain a better understanding. The therapist will then tailor therapy to a child’s specific needs and develop a program of activities for the child to work on.
Occupational Therapy is made up of exercises and activities that build specific skills that are weak. For example, if a child struggles to focus, the therapist might encourage the child to do full-body exercises before sitting down to do their work. If a child has messy handwriting, they might work on multisensory techniques to help improve handwriting.
Some of the conditions that can be helped by Occupational therapy include developmental coordination disorder (sometimes called dyspraxia.) For example, one exercise to address fine motor skills might be to get a child to pick up items with tweezers. OT can also help children who have trouble with sensory processing. Children who struggle to process sensory information may overreact or underreact to things they hear, see, taste, touch, or smell. That can lead kids to have meltdowns or become hyperactive.
In such cases, a therapist might design a series of physical activities tailored to give a child the sensory input they need. Occupational therapy can also help kids with other challenges like dyslexia, visual processing issues, executive functioning issues, and dysgraphia.
Here are some examples of the types of tasks and skills an occupational therapist might focus on:
- Organising a school bag (developing motor planning, organisational skills)
- Writing and copying notes (uses fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination)
- Throwing and catching (develops gross motor skills like balance and coordination)
- Holding and controlling a pencil or scissors (developing fine motor skills, motor planning)
- Self-care routines like getting dressed and ready for school (fine motor skills, organisational skills, motor planning)
- Reacting to sensory input (builds self-regulation skills)
OT can help to build up a child’s self-confidence and sense of accomplishment which can sometimes be compromised when everything feels like a struggle, particularly in front of their peers. OT helps kids play, improves their school performance, and aids their daily activities.