What is Occupational Therapy?

In its simplest terms, occupational therapy providers help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes. Occupational therapy services typically include:

  • an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals,
  • customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and
  • an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.

Occupational therapy services may include comprehensive evaluations of the client’s home and other environments (e.g., workplace, school), recommendations for adaptive equipment and training in its use, and guidance and education for family members and caregivers. Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team. Read More...

Does my child need OT?


  • Easily Distracted
  • Poor Attention Span
  • Overly Sensitive to Touch, Movement, Sounds or Sights
  • Difficulty Accepting Change
  • Doesn't Skip, Jump, or Hop on One Foot
  • Activity Level Usually High or Low
  • Low Muscle Tone


  • Walks into People or Objects Frequently
  • Limited Play SkillsI
  • nability to "Unwind" or "Self-Regulate"
  • Excessive Drooling
  • Doesn't Chew Food Before Swallowing
  • Clumsy / Uncoordinated
  • Picky Eater
  • Walks on Toes
  • Doesn't Feed Self
  • Constantly Touches People or Object
  • Poor Social Interaction
  • Difficulty Holding a Pencil or Handwriting (3+)

The Role of Occupational Therapy With Children and Youth:

Occupational therapy practitioners work with children,youth, and their families to promote active participationin activities or occupations that are meaningful to them.Occupation refers to activities that may support thehealth, well-being, and development of an individual(AOTA, 2008). For children and youth, occupations areactivities that enable them to learn and develop lifeskills (e.g., school activities), be creative and/or deriveenjoyment (e.g., play), and thrive (e.g., self-care and carefor others) as both a means and an end. Occupationaltherapy practitioners work with children of all ages (birththrough young adulthood) and abilities. Recommendedinterventions are based on a thorough understanding oftypical development and the impact of disability, illness,and impairment on the individual child’s development,play, learning, and overall occupational performance.Occupational therapy practitioners provide services by collaborating with other professionals to identify and meetneeds of children experiencing delays or challenges in development; identifying and modifying or overcomingbarriers that interfere with, restrict, or inhibit a child’s functional performance; teaching and modeling skills andstrategies to children and their families to extend therapeutic intervention; and adapting activities, materials, andenvironmental conditions so children can participate under different conditions and in various environments.

Developmental Needs

The primary occupations of young children are play and interacting with caregivers. Occupational therapists evaluate children’s development and provide intervention to improve skills and/or modify environments when concerns arise about a child’s functional performance. Some examples are:facilitating movement to help a child sit independently or crawl; helping a child learn to follow 2- or 3-step instructions; helping a child develop the ability to dress independently; helping a child learn to cope with disappointment or failure; reducing extraneous environmental noise for a child who is easily distracted; building skills for sharing, taking turns, and playing with peers; and helping a child develop the ability to use toys and materials in both traditional and creative manners.

Injury-Related Needs

When a child experiences a serious illness or injury, medically based or rehabilitative occupational therapy services may be provided. These services are developmentally appropriate and may emphasize physical skills to increase movement, strength, and/or coordination; and adaptive skills, cognitive abilities, sensorimotor skills, visual motor and perceptual skills, and social and interpersonal skills to improve the child’s functional abilities and independence. Outpatient services may be provided to continue rehabilitation progress.

 Educational Needs

Occupational therapy practitioners work with students in preschool, and elementary, middle, and high school to support successful learning, appropriate behavior, and participation in daily school routines and activities. Services can be provided under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, or the Americans with Disabilities Act for students with disabilities, or as part of a multi-tiered problem-solving process for general education students (e.g., Response to Intervention, early intervening services).Practitioners also collaborate with teachers, parents, and education personnel on ways to support student learning throughout the school environment.

Emotional–Behavioral Needs

Occupational therapy practitioners have training in mental health and are well-suited to address children’s emotional and behavioral needs as they relate to everyday activities and social interaction. For example, occupational therapy practitioners help children develop the ability to cope with challenges, calm down when frustrated, defuse anger, and manage impulses in order to succeed at individual tasks and collaborative interactions at home, at school, and in the community.As children grow older, skills for success in independent living become essential. Occupational therapy practitioners address self-determination and self-advocacy skills, along with transition from school into adult roles.


Active participation of caregivers and families in their children’s lives is crucial to helping them achieve their greatest potential. If they are concerned about their child’s development, caregivers can consult their educational service district to request an occupational therapy evaluation.