Inside: Learn what OT is for kids, or occupational therapy. OTs can work in a variety of settings, including school-based. Here’s what you need to know as a parent.

When you think of occupational therapists, your mind may immediately go to therapy for senior citizens. But did you know that occupational therapy is actually just as important for children?

It’s important for people of all ages, but children benefit greatly if they have developmental delays, physical pain, or IEPs.

a pile of colorful buttons
Learning to fasten a button is one daily living skill an OT may work on.

So, what is occupational therapy? Let me tell you more about private OT services and school OT services.

1. What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy intervention uses everyday life activities (occupations) to promote health, well-being, and your ability to participate in the important activities in your life. Essentially, it gives the patient the tools needed to succeed in daily activities.

An occupational therapist works with the patient to create a treatment plan that helps with routine tasks. This could include things like brushing teeth, putting on socks and underwear, and zipping a coat. It also touches on functional work and life environments based on the patients’ needs.

They also use adaptive equipment as needed to help make life easier. Their goal is to help their patient achieve a normal lifestyle as much as possible. Family members are, of course, a critical part of this process.

In order to achieve goals set by the occupational therapist, the family needs to participate in and carry out exercises at home as much as possible. Your OT will communicate these needs with you.

a student and Occupational therapist practicing sensory skills
OTs also work on sensory integration.

2. What is the Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?

The main difference between these two is that an occupational therapy program will help young children and older adults improve their ability to perform day-to-day activities. A physical therapist will help a patient improve their ability to move certain parts of the body that may be weaker than others.

Oftentimes, an occupational therapy practice will reside in a similar setting or the same setting as a physical therapist so they can work with patients who may need both services. Both of these fields require the therapist to pass their national certification exam in order to obtain their license to practice.

3. What is Occupational Therapy in Schools?

School-based occupational therapy is a type of therapy provided by licensed occupational therapists to students in a school setting to help them participate in daily school activities.

Occupational therapists work with children who may have physical, developmental, behavioral, or cognitive disabilities that affect their ability to learn, play, and perform daily school-related tasks.

The goal of school-based occupational therapy is to help students develop the necessary skills and strategies to perform school-related tasks such as writing, typing, cutting, coloring, and using classroom equipment.

Occupational therapists also work with teachers and parents to create an environment that supports a student’s success. School OTs often assist with assistive technology decisions and choosing devices like low-tech assistive technology.

Examples of interventions that occupational therapists may use in a school setting include sensory integration therapy, fine motor skill development, visual perceptual and visual motor skill development, and adaptive equipment training.

They may also provide recommendations for modifications to the student’s environment or individualized education plan (IEP) goals to support their success in the classroom.

OT is considered an IEP Related Service. While it is best practice to have your child’s school OT attend IEP meetings, they are not mandated IEP team members.

4. What Training is Required to Become an Occupational Therapist?

Anyone wanting to dive into the field of occupational therapy needs to have a Master’s Degree. Obviously, before that, they need their Bachelor’s Degree in order to gain the next degree.

There are many other skills needed before diving into the field of occupational therapy. Consider some of these:

Empathy and patience – Some patients will be more resistant to treatment and need more time to reach their goals. The therapist should be calm and patient, so they can work with the patient where they are. While daily tasks may seem simple to some, they are extremely frustrating for some patients.

Problem-solving skills – Each patient will work a little differently, so the OT may need to get creative if one thing isn’t working. Treatment goals will evolve and change over time, so it’s important to use flexibility in this area.

Communication skills – It’s important that the health professionals working with the patient are able to communicate with them about everyday tasks and their exercises.

Physical Strength – While many patients will be able to move and navigate on their own, many will need assistance to improve their quality of life. The therapist should be able to lift and move their patient as needed, especially if they are in a wheelchair or other type of mobility equipment.

5. What do Occupational Therapists Treat?

Occupational therapists treat many things that people deal with in their daily lives. These include injuries, illnesses, and disabilities.

Many people with brain injury see an occupational therapist to overcome large obstacles. They use special equipment in a variety of settings to help people gain a routine in their lives with minimal frustration.

Some OTs work on fine motor skills, while others may focus only on executive functioning or sensory. These greatly depend on the needs of the patient and can change over time as they master their goals.

6. Children Who May Receive Occupational Therapy Treatment

Rehabilitation centers accept children of young ages to promote their daily living skills. These services are important for young children with motor skills delays, coordination issues, or sensory processing disorders.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder or Cerebral Palsy often see an occupational therapist to work on skills. They play an important role in helping these individuals through their daily life routines.

7. How to Find an Occupational Therapist

Depending on your specific goals and whether you were referred by a doctor or the school system, you can reach out to a private practice or OTs working with your school. Occupational therapy services are all over. There are private practices, OTs working in public school systems, and others working alongside physical therapists.

You can also go to the American Occupational Therapist Association website to find local offerings. Speak with your healthcare provider to see if they have any recommendations for early intervention therapy in your area.