Occupational Therapy

Children make the biggest gains, and early help does make a difference.

Occupational therapy practitioners work with children, youth, and their families, caregivers, and teachers to promote active participation in activities or occupations that are meaningful to them. Occupation refers to activities that support the health, well-being, and development of an individual (American Occupational Therapy Association, 2014). For children and youth, occupations are activities that enable them to learn and develop life skills (e.g., preschool and school activities), be creative and/or derive enjoyment (e.g., play), and thrive (e.g., self-care and relationships with others) as both a means and an end. Occupational therapy practitioners work with children of all ages and abilities through the habilitation and rehabilitation process. Recommended interventions are based on a thorough understanding of typical development, the environments in which children engage (e.g., home, school, playground) and the impact of disability, illness, and impairment on the individual child's development, play, learning, and overall occupational performance.

Occupational therapy practitioners collaborate with parents/caregivers and other professionals to identify and meet the needs of children experiencing delays or challenges in development; identifying and modifying or compensating for barriers that interfere with, restrict, or inhibit functional performance; teaching and modeling skills and strategies to children, their families, and other adults in their environments to extend therapeutic intervention to all aspects of daily life tasks; and adapting activities, materials, and environmental conditions so children can participate under different conditions and in various settings (e.g., home, school, sports, community programs).

Developmental Needs

The primary occupations of infants, toddlers, and young children are playing, learning, and interacting with caregivers and, eventually, their peers. Occupational therapy interventions address developmental milestones such as (but not limited to), facilitating movement to sit, crawl, or walk independently; learning to pay attention and follow simple instructions; developing the ability to eat, drink, wash, and dress independently; learning to cope with disappointment or failure; reducing extraneous environmental stimuli, such as noise for a child who is easily distracted; building skills for sharing, taking turns, and playing with peers; using toys and materials in both traditional and creative ways; and participating in age appropriate daily routines.

The primary occupations of older children and teens are integrating educational instruction in and outside of school, forming and maintaining productive friendships, and beginning the transition to work and more independent, higher education. Occupational therapy interventions for older students often expand to include such items as adapting or modifying curricula, the environment, or activities to support participation in educational routines and learning activities; navigating more complex social relationships, including dating; assessing the skills needed to learn to drive or assisting with alternative community mobility options; strengthening self-determination and decision making skills, and enhancing overall independence; helping with vocational planning and transitions, including employer supports; and planning for transition to college, including time management, study habits and routines, and independent living skills.

When a school or healthcare professional recommends occupational therapy for a child, parents often have a lot of questions.

What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy is a health profession in which therapists and therapy assistants help individuals to do and engage in the specific activities that make up daily life. For children and youth in schools, occupational therapy works to ensure that a student can participate in the full breadth of school activities—from paying attention in class; concentrating on the task at hand; holding a pencil, musical instrument, or book in the easiest way; or just behaving appropriately in class.

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help students perform particular tasks necessary for participation or learning.  The whole purpose of school-based occupational therapy is to help kids succeed. Occupational therapy practitioners don't just focus on the specific problem that a child's disability may present; rather, they look at the whole child and tackle individual tasks, helping students find ways to do the things they need and want to do.

Usually, occupational therapy is provided to students with disabilities. But occupational therapy can be made available to other children who are having specific problems in school. Occupational therapy practitioners also work to provide consultation to teachers about how classroom design affects attention, why particular children behave inappropriately at certain times, and where best to seat a child based on his or her learning style or other needs. Occupational therapy may be recommended for an individual student for reasons that might be affecting his or learning or behavior, such as motor skills, cognitive processing, visual or perceptual problems, mental health concerns, difficulties staying on task, disorganization, or inappropriate sensory responses.

Accessing school-based occupational therapy is fairly straightforward. Not every student needs occupational therapy, even if the student has a disability. Those who do may have problems that the teacher can address after consulting with an occupational therapy practitioner and modifying their teaching technique or the environment for the class.

The education team could recommend one-on-one services. Usually these services are integrated as much as possible into the child's routine to promote better integration of skills.

Parents have a lot of the responsibility when it comes to their child's success in school, and their involvement becomes more important when an occupational therapy practitioner enters the picture. It's important to get to know your child's teachers and occupational therapist.  Share information about what your child does at home, raise whatever concerns you have, find out what sorts of things you can do with your child to help him or her succeed.

Occupational therapy practitioners have important knowledge and expertise to share.  Little Lukes offers occupational therapy services to children and families in a variety of settings and focus areas.  Contact Little Lukes at (315) 701-1107 for more information.

Act Today

Early intervention leads to better results. Do not wait to get help if you have concerns. Free or low-cost public services are available. For infants and toddlers (birth to age 3 years), contact your physician about early intervention programs. For preschool age (3-5 years), contact your local school district about preschool services.

Next Step: Physical Therapy

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