Types of Therapies: Glossary

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Aug. 26, 2021Updated Dec. 12, 2022

Some of the most important people in your child’s early life are the therapists who will help them work toward building the emotional, social, adaptive, and physical skills they’ll need to participate in their school and community. To help you learn about what therapies are available and how they might benefit your child, we’ve provided a brief outline below, along with various focuses and types within each therapy.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Occupational therapy encompasses a wide range of treatments and interventions for both physical and neurological disabilities that might interrupt a child’s ability to go about their daily life. OTs may work on the following skills:

  • Fine motor skills are needed to control the movement of our hands and fingers as well as the muscles in our face, tongue, and feet. We use fine motor skills for activities such as grasping objects, tying shoes, writing, and using scissors.

  • Crossing the midline means moving one’s arm and leg across the middle of the body — this simple movement can improve communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, and it’s important for nearly everything we do.

  • Hand-eye coordination not only helps us process visual information; it’s also needed for tasks such as stacking blocks, throwing a ball, or typing on the computer.

  • Executive functioning is the ability to plan, initiate, organize, remember, and connect information; better executive functioning skills can help kids shift mindsets, set goals, and self-monitor.

  • Sensory processing helps us make sense of our body in the environment; sensory integration therapy (SI) helps a child cope with challenges processing sensory input by using proprioceptive play (swings, trampolines, slides), body work (weighted blankets, brushing, massage), and more. A OT may also design a “sensory diet” of sensory activities for your child to do each day to help boost their attention, arousal, and adaptive responses.

Feeding Therapy

Feeding therapy is used to teach a child with sensory or motor challenges how to eat, or to eat more effectively. It may be administered by a speech-language pathologist (SLP), occupational therapist (OT), or both working together. While an SLP might focus more on swallowing and upper gastrointestinal dysfunction, an OT will consider the total-body picture such as posture and the need for adaptive devices.

Nutritional Support Therapy

Nutritional support therapy is used to treat or prevent malnutrition in children who cannot eat enough food. There are two types of nutritional support therapy: enteral nutrition and parenteral nutrition. Enteral nutrition uses a feeding tube, while parenteral nutrition uses a tube inserted directly into the veins in cases where the digestive tract can’t be used. The method, amount, and type of nutrition used all depend on each individual child’s needs.

VitalStim Therapy

VitalStim Therapy uses neuromuscular electrical stimulation to treat dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. A video-fluoroscopic swallow study is typically used beforehand to figure out if your child is having trouble swallowing. During the therapy sessions, electrodes will be placed on the front of your child’s neck, and your child will be encouraged to swallow food or liquids while an electrical current is administered through the electrodes.

Physical Therapy (PT)

Speech-Language Pathology

Speech therapy (also referred to as speech-language pathology) treats communication difficulties and disorders such as oral motor dysfunction, fluency, speech sounds related to apraxia or dysarthria, and communication issues. For an in-depth look at speech therapy, read our article Speech Therapy: What It Is and How It Works.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC)

For children with speech or language issues or those who are nonspeaking, AAC offers alternative ways to communicate, from writing in a notebook to using gestures or pressing buttons on a tablet that speaks for the child. Types of AAC generally fall under two categories:

  • Unaided systems: These involve your child’s own body rather than using external devices such as gestures, body language, facial expressions, and some sign vocabulary.

  • Aided systems: These use a tool or device. They may be basic, like a pen and paper, or high-tech, like a touch tablet or other speech-generating device. Some common programs are Proloquo2Go, TouchChat, and GoTalk.

The following are less evidence-based and more clinical experience-based AAC approaches:

  • Soma-Rapid Prompting Method (Soma®RPM): This method utilizes visual, auditory, or tactile prompts and responses that can include pointing to letter stencils and boards, the use of devices, handwriting, and purposeful speech. There are four main objectives: cognitive, skill, tolerance, and communication.

  • Facilitated Communication (FC): This involves supported or assisted typing, where a facilitator supports your child’s hand as they use their index finger to point to letters on a board or strike keys on a keyboard.

  • Spelling to Communicate (S2C): This approach teaches the purposeful motor skills needed to point to letters to spell. The goal is better communication between the brain and the body.

Beckman Oral Motor Approach

For children who cannot cognitively follow a therapist’s verbal instructions, this intervention provides assisted movement to activate muscle contraction. It helps build strength and control of the muscles used for speech.

PROMPT Therapy

Prompts for Restructuring Oral Muscular Phonetic Targets (PROMPT) is a tactile-kinesthetic approach to developing motor skill. In this therapy, an SLP uses their hands to guide your child’s jaw, lips, and tongue to form words. The SLP will choose specific words tailored to your child’s needs and the motor movements they need to practice.

Talk Tools and Oral Placement Therapy (OPT)

OPT combines auditory, visual, and tactile stimulation to address oral-motor challenges, such as difficulty with coordinated tongue movement and swallowing. Talk Tools is a type of OPT that uses tools (straws, horns, buttons) to improve muscle strength in the mouth. Because the same muscles used for feeding are used for speech, OPT can help a child improve their speech quality and fluency over time. Techniques address low muscle tone, hearing loss, chewing best practices, and more.

Speech and Hearing Therapy

While speech therapy is concerned with voice and speech-language skills, hearing therapy (also referred to as audiology) deals with hearing and hearing impairment. Speech and hearing therapies are used to help children with voice disorders, language disorders, stuttering, and aphasia. An SLP can evaluate your child’s language skills to establish an individualized treatment plan.

Auditory-Verbal Therapy (AVT)

AVT is an early intervention therapy option for infants, toddlers, and young children who use hearing aids or cochlear implants. An AV therapist will work with a child to help them listen and develop spoken language skills. AVT also helps family members learn methods to stimulate their child’s potential for hearing.

American Sign Language (ASL)

ASL is a complete visual language that uses hand and body movements as well as facial expressions to communicate. It has its own unique grammar, which is distinct from that of spoken English.

Total Communication

Total communication is a system that works to provide children with hearing loss with the tools to communicate and express themselves, including using gestures, body language, sign language, augmented communication devices, lip reading, and cued speech.

Vision Therapy

Vision therapy is a broad term for a therapy program that attempts to improve visual skills and abilities. It can be used to prevent or correct myopia (nearsightedness), strabismus (when both eyes do not line up in the same direction), and diplopia (double vision). It involves eye exercises used by pediatric opthamologists and orthoptists that can be taught at the doctor’s office and repeated later at home. Vision therapy may also be used to treat visual processing disorders in children with learning disabilities, dyslexia, and ADHD.

Behavioral Therapy

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

ABA uses positive reinforcement to increase language and communication skills, attention, focus, social and daily living skills, and more. It also helps decrease problem behaviors that may be harmful to your child or others, or those that may get in the way of learning. Therapy plans are often developed and overseen by a Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in the form of discrete trial instruction (DTI) or discrete trial training (DTT), which is a repetitive way of mastering a targeted skill and is often administered one-to-one. ABA builds off a three-step “ABC” pattern: Antecedent (what comes before a behavior), the actual Behavior, and Consequence (what happens after the behavior).

There are two other ways to apply ABA therapy:

  • Pivotal Response Treatment (PRT) is a play-based method that targets improving “pivotal” development areas instead of individual behaviors to spark widespread progress.

  • The Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) is a type of ABA that can be done in individual or group sessions. Activities are play-based with multiple goals for your child to practice accomplishing more than one thing at a time.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is a psychological treatment that helps improve emotional regulation to protect against irrational fears or behaviors due to anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and other diagnoses. Children with developmental delays or impairments can often suffer from anxiety and OCD.

DIRFloortime®

The Developmental, Individual Differences, and Relationship-Based (DIRFloortime®) model follows your child’s lead and interests to help them climb further up the “developmental ladder”. It centers on pretend play, utilizing a continuous flow of both verbal and nonverbal communication. Floortime can be applied across environments, from home to school and the community.

Social-Adaptive Development and Infant Stimulation Therapy

Social-adaptive development can take any number of forms, from “baby and me” groups, where parents learn how to make their children feel safe, to more intensive “mini-school days” where parents, their babies, and providers engage in various play activities to develop certain skills.

Infant stimulation offers sensory enrichment as a therapeutic intervention. It’s focused on addressing both cognitive and motor developmental areas for children with suspected developmental delays or delayed milestones, or who are at high risk of delays. Infant stimulation provides supplemental sensory stimulation in some or all of the sensory areas: visual, auditory, tactile, vestibular, olfactory, and gustatory. The activities arouse or stimulate a baby’s sense of sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. Infant stimulation has been shown to improve an infant’s curiosity, attention span, memory, and nervous system development. The therapy often requires a child development specialist trained to deliver the infant stimulation portion and a physical or occupational therapist trained in neuro-developmental therapy (NDT). Parents or other primary caregivers may be trained for the daily home implementation of the program.

Social Skills Training

Therapy centers and hospitals host social skills groups for many age brackets, from younger children well into the teen years. Programs for younger children are often based on experiential play, where they can put communication, problem solving, decision making, and peer relations into practice. These programs can be helpful for children and teens with autism or other developmental disorders that can make socializing with same-age peers a struggle.

Program for the Education and Enrichment of Relational Skills (PEERS®)

UCLA’s PEERS® is a social skills intervention for individuals with autism, ranging from preschoolers to young adults, and it can also serve those with ADHD, anxiety and/or depression. It addresses skills such as making and keeping friends, handling rejection and bullying, and even making phone calls. Parental and family involvement is a key component of the program.

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Contents


Overview

Occupational Therapy (OT)

Physical Therapy (PT)

Speech-Language Pathology

Speech and Hearing Therapy

Vision Therapy

Behavioral Therapy

Social-Adaptive Development and Infant Stimulation Therapy

Social Skills Training

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Related Parent Questions

What is the difference between school-based and clinic-based services?
The focus of school-based services is on the child’s ability to access their education, both in terms of curriculum and environment. Clinical services look at not just the child’s role as a student but also their role in home and community environments.
What therapies help teach children social skills?
Social skills groups teach kids how to interact with their peers in social settings. Such groups are most beneficial for children who can gain from social problem-solving and modeling with peers.
What is speech therapy?
Speech therapy (also referred to as speech-language pathology) treats communication difficulties and disorders such as oral motor dysfunction, fluency, speech sounds related to apraxia or dysarthria, and communication issues.

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