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  • Ellen Cregan

What is an OT?

Occupational therapy - where do we start? Occupational Therapists can help people all across the lifespan for various reasons. Today we are going to break that down, to get a better understanding, in particular, with how an OT can support your child.

When we think about “occupation”, the first thing that often comes to mind is “work” or “career”. In Occupational Therapy, we use the word occupation to talk about all of the everyday activities that people do throughout the day. This can be on their own, with their family and out in the community, to occupy time, and bring meaning and purpose to life. Occupations include all of the things people need to, want to and are expected to do (World Federation of OTs). For children, this looks a bit different to the occupations that we engage in as adults.

Here are some of the key areas that an Occupational Therapist could support you and your child to develop skills in, and to develop strategies to promote independence.

1. Self-care skills:

Self care skills include all the activities that you do to get yourself ready for the day. This could include dressing, tying shoes, brushing teeth, using cutlery, toileting and having a shower. A child experiencing challenges with fine or gross motor development, or executive functioning skills (attention, organisation, and memory), may take longer to learn self-care skills compared to other children. An OT can support you to break down each of these tasks, and then work with you to identify strategies to support your child to learn these skills and increase their independence.

2. Play:

A child’s main occupation is play! Play is how children learn how to interact with the world around them, increase their understanding of unfamiliar ideas and interact with others. If your child has some difficulty with imaginative play, turn taking or interacting with other children in play, an OT can support them to build their play skills, and, importantly support you in being able to work on these at home.

3. Productive occupations:

Productive occupations include completing school work, managing money, preparing meals or completing household chores. A child with executive functioning or motor skill challenges may have difficulty participating in these occupations. An OT can assist with developing these skills, and to identify supports or strategies that can be implemented to build your child’s independence.

4. Sensory Processing:

Sensory processing is the process of organising sensory information from the environment and body, and interpreting it to understand the world around us. A child that has difficulty interpreting sensory information may be sensitive to, avoidant or seeking of different sensory information (sound, lights, taste, textures or smells), which can lead to large emotional responses, clumsiness or attentional difficulties. An OT can support children to process this sensory information, and implement sensory strategies to promote regulation throughout the day.

5. Visual Perceptual Skills:

We use visual perceptual skills to make sense of and interpret what we are seeing. This includes; matching two objects; remembering visual information; finding an object in a busy environment (eg. where’s Wally); noticing if an object is the same even if it's a different colour or size; and identifying a full object even if part of it is missing. Poor visual perceptual skills can impact a child’s ability to read, write and interpret visual information - which are all very important tasks to participate in learning at school!

6. Equipment and home modifications:

Children with physical and intellectual disabilities may benefit from specialised equipment or modifications within the home environment to increase their independence. This may include assistive technology (e.g wheelchairs, lighting), adaptive equipment (e.g toilet seats) or simple home modifications (e.g handrails).

Finally, Occupational Therapy can help children with a range of conditions, with the overall aim of supporting independence in the areas that are most important to you! Our sessions are predominantly clinic based however depending on your child’s needs, your OT can conduct home and school visits. Our paediatric Occupational Therapists at D.O.T.S have experience in supporting children and families with the following conditions:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorder and ADHD

  • Birth injuries

  • Traumatic injuries

  • Developmental delays

  • Hand injuries

  • Sensory processing disorders

  • Chronic illnesses

If you have any questions about how support from an Occupational Therapist could help your child, please get in touch with us!


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