Occupational Therapy (OT) 101
Occupational therapy (OT) encompasses a wide range of treatments and interventions to help people adapt to physical and neurological disabilities that affect their ability to go about their daily life. Wondering how OT can benefit your child? How does OT interrelate with other skills our children work on in physical therapy, speech therapy, and other types of therapies such as AAC and assistive technology?
To answer these questions and more, we spoke with licensed and certified occupational therapists Anna Baker (M.A., OTR/L BCP SIPT) from LKS and Associates and Katherine Ambrose (OTR/L) and Katie Krcal (OTR/L) from Kidspace.
What is pediatric occupational therapy?
What is occupational therapy used for?
What is the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy?
How does a parent know when their child needs OT?
A child may benefit from occupational therapy if they have difficulties with:
- Fine motor and table-top activities (like coloring, drawing, writing, and using scissors)
- Developmentally appropriate play activities
- Behaviors, self-regulation, and coping skills
- Transitions and flexibility
- Visual attention and spatial environmental awareness
- Sensory processing and modulation
- Tactile tolerance/tactile defensiveness
- Age-appropriate food selectivity and/or feeding skills
- Learning, recognizing, and remembering symbols, forms, letters, and numbers
- Handwriting, letter formation, spacing, and sizing
- Delayed hand dominance (often switches the hand they use to draw and write with)
- Motor planning, motor coordination, and praxis (difficulty with balance and coordination, difficulty imitating motor movements, etc.)
- Executive functioning skills (difficulty planning, sequencing, or organizing activities that involve multiple steps, etc.)
- Self-care activities and age-appropriate independence
Baker explains the importance of addressing self-care activities and building age-appropriate independence:
Types of occupational therapy: traditional and episodic
In traditional OT, a child is identified as needing services and stays in therapy until they age out or are discharged after growth. Think of it as lower frequency over a longer duration.
Episodic care, a newer form of OT, is a twelve-to-sixteen-week burst of therapy sessions in which the therapist, parent, and child (if applicable) identify a set of goals and then work to meet them. Think of it as higher frequency over a shorter duration. When someone leaves episodic care, they're not discharged forever.
Krcal tells us that because of the “bursts of therapy” that characterize episodic care, the therapist, parent, and child have the opportunity to meet their goals quicker than with traditional OT, allowing for a childhood that isn’t defined by a million afterschool therapy appointments.
Krcal explains, “Development is always happening. Expectations are always changing. Circumstances are always changing. So after a quick break of services which can last anywhere from three months to a couple of years, they can say, ‘We're having trouble with X, Y and Z. Can we come back in and see you?’ And you do a short catch-up with your therapist, establish those new goals, those new areas, and then you get started again on that twelve-to-sixteen-week burst.”
Episodic care can be useful not only in clinics, but in school settings as well, benefiting students transitioning to a more independent lifestyle. Listen to Ambrose’s explanation: