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What Is Paediatric Occupational Therapy And How Does It Help?

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Paediatric occupational therapy is a type of occupational therapy that focuses on the development, growth and learning of children. Occupational therapists (OTs) help children develop the skills they need to function in day-to-day life, whether that is at home, school or in the community. They work with children with and without disabilities to help the child develop skills including fine motor skills, gross motor skills, cognitive functioning, sensory processing, behaviour, toileting, dressing, eating, and focus and concentration. This blog post will give you all the information you need on paediatric occupational therapy as well as how it can help your child gain independence in daily tasks.

According to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, Occupational Therapy is “a client-centred health profession concerned with promoting health and well being through occupation. The primary goal of Occupational Therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. Occupational therapists achieve this outcome by working with people and communities to enhance their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by modifying the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement.

(WFOT 2012)

What is Occupational Therapy?

Before we delve into Paediatric Occupational Therapy, which is Occupational Therapist who works with children, let’s have a look at what is Occupational Therapy in general as OTs can work with newborns all the way to the elderly.

In other words, OTs look at the “occupations” of a person. These “occupations” are daily activities that individuals want to, need to, or are expected to do. These occupations are things that are meaningful to the person and can include:

Self-care activities

Self-care activities are tasks such as toileting, dressing, brushing their teeth, eating, sleeping. These tasks are necessary for functioning in the home, school and community.

Many of these tasks that are seemly simple are a combination of complex singular tasks. For example, getting ready for bed. This task will need to be broken up into the following more complex steps:

  1. Socially saying goodnight your the household
  2. Locating and putting on pyjamas (this involves visual perceptual skills)
  3. Brushing teeth
  4. Cleaning off the face, washing hands or having a shower
  5. Going to the toilet
  6. Getting comfy in bed
  7. Quieting your mind

Productivity Activities

Productivity activities are essential for deriving meaning in the life of an individual, these can include activities found at school or work. For children, these tasks include activities such as drawing, writing or using scissors.

For some children, these occupations are a struggle and that’s where an OT comes in to help. An OT will help children to develop the skills they need to perform everyday productivity activities or tasks such as handwriting and drawing.

Leisure Activities

Leisure Activities such as hanging out with family and friends, playing basketball, going on hikes or baking are meaningful to many children and adults.

An OT can help by providing development activities that will enhance the child’s skills needed for performing these tasks. When considering the leisure activities of a child we cannot overstate the importance of play. As a culture, we are only just now understanding the importance of play. Play is a child’s most important occupation, the learning application of play is incredible.

How do Occupational Therapists help individuals achieve success in their occupations

OTs aim to help the individual achieve success in their occupations by:

  • developing the knowledge and skills required for the occupation
  • modify the task or the way the task is completed
  • modify the environment or provide alternative equipment and assistive devices

Where do you find Occupational Therapists Working?

OTs work with different people in the population and in different environments. Some places you might find OTs are:

  • Work rehabilitation when someone has had a workplace injury
  • In the hospital working in rehabilitation after someone has had a stroke
  • Teaching people to drive after an injury
  • Working with premature babies in the hospital
  • Working in mental health care facilities
  • Working with children in schools

Now we have a better understanding of what occupational therapy is, let’s delve into what is Paediatric Occupational Therapy?

What is Paediatric Occupational Therapy?

Paediatric OTs are OTs who have experience working with children. You will often see Paediatric OTs in the clinic, homes and schools. They work with children, youth and adults who are important in their life such as parents, educators, and support workers.

Paediatric OTs can also work in multidisciplinary teams with other health professionals such as speech therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists.

Together we provide assistant that will aid the child’s development at home school or community settings. We help children who are experiencing challenges related to the demands of daily living (school, eating, sleeping). Other health professionals may focus on more specific areas of the child’s life, but OTs are more holistic in nature.

Can Paediatric Occupational Therapists Help my Child?

Paediatric OTs can help children who are experiencing challenges related to their occupations.

As mentioned before, “occupations” are daily activities that individuals want to, need to, or are expected to do. Occupations can also be defined as anything that ‘occupies time’.

Using this definition, children have many different occupations! Children play. They learn. They eat. They learn to look after themselves – like going to the toilet, putting on clothes, tying their shoelaces. They ride bikes. They play with friends.

OTs help children who might be having difficulty in these areas, whether they have a disability or not.

What skills can OTs help with?

Paediatric OTs can provide assessment, therapy and consultation around:

Child development 

Including is your child meeting developmental milestones and what are the next milestones for your child.

Gross motor skills

Gross motor skills including hand-eye coordination and core strength and larger body movements.

Fine Motor Skills 

Fine motor skills are small muscle development in their hands required for handwriting, tying shoelaces and doing up buttons and zippers.

Play And Social Skills. 

These skills are needed for social development with peers. Play is the absolute best way for children to learn

Participation and engagement in daily activities and routines

A child’s participation and engagement in daily activities directly affect their ability to learn new skills and navigate life.

Attention and concentration 

Attention and concentration is the ability to stay focused on a task.

Self Regulation 

Self-regulation is a child’s ability to control and regulate their emotions. This ties in with emotional regulation and the level of alertness.

Sensory Processing 

Sensory Processing is an individual’s ability to receive, process, and respond to sensory information. Children with difficulties in sensory processing can display behaviours such as running away, covering their ears in loud environments and talking loudly in class.

Self-Care or activities for daily living 

Self-care includes activities that help with looking after oneself. These include toileting, dressing, and eating.

Executive Functioning

Executive Functioning is cognitive skills such as maintaining attention in class, organisational skills, memory, problem-solving, and planning skills.

School readiness

Being ready for school is an important developmental milestone for all children.

Prescription of equipment

OTs can also help with the application and assessment around the prescription of equipment to assist a child.

How can Paediatric Occupational Therapy help my child?

How a paediatric OT can help depends on your child’s difficulty and whether they have a disability or not. But Paediatric OTs typically use the following method to help:

  1. Discuss Goals with Parents
  2. Provide Assessment
  3. One-on-one Therapy
  4. Parent Education & Consultation

What a Paediatric Occupational Therapist might do to help

  • Help your child develop their fine motor skills so they can open containers, button their shirts, tie their shoelaces, pick up objects, and pick up a pencil to draw and write.
  • Help develop your child’s skills to socialise with others and develop friendships.
  • Work with parents and/or teachers to offer strategies to best support their children at school at home.
  • Look at reasons why your child might be behaving in certain ways
  • Assess whether your child has sensory processing difficulties making it difficult for them to focus in the classroom
  • Help build your child’s skill in attention in class, or planning and problem-solving.
  • Work together with parents on developing toileting skills

In addition to helping children develop their knowledge and skills in certain skill areas, Paediatric Occupational Therapists also work with the child’s family and school education team to ensure there is a good understanding about the child (including their diagnosis, if any), strategies that help the child and how to better support the child in the child’s natural environments.

Do OTs work with kids with or without diagnoses?

An occupational therapist will work with children with and without a diagnosis. When it comes to helping children develop their skills and knowledge, diagnoses help to identify what prooven methods have worked, however is not essential. OTs provide therapy to help children with and without a diagnosis because we believe that all children can benefit from Occupational Therapy.

Occupational Therapist Work with the following Diagnoses & Conditions:

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

It is possible to identify the specific needs of children with Autism when they are in occupational therapy. The process of finding out what a child needs is done through assessment and discussion with parents and caregivers. This would include a personal interview, observation, and discussion with parents or caregivers to come up with a plan for therapy. The type of therapy that would be helpful will depend on the individual child’s needs.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Occupational therapy works with the child, family, and teachers to help the child with ADHD. The emphasis is on developing skills for attention, following instructions, planning and problem-solving, working with others socially, playing games etc.

Intellectual impairment

Occupational therapy works with a child’s group of friends and teachers to help the child. One of the roles of an Occupational Therapist is to report progress to the parents and teachers, as well as on what they have been working on. These discussions may be led by your occupational therapist or can also include other professionals such as speech-language pathologists, behavioural specialists etc.

They also work with children with intellectual disabilities on developing toileting skills or self-care skills, as well as social skills.

Global Developmental Delay (GDD)

The focus of occupational therapy for children with global developmental delay are on developing their skills in play, leisure, social interaction, academics, daily living skills, safety skills and gaining independence. When it comes to GDD, OTs generally work with the child & parents together.

Cerebral Palsy

Occupational therapists work with children who have cerebral palsy through a range of interventions. These interventions can help children of all ages, from infants to teenagers. An Occupational therapist assesses patients needs on an individual basis in order to provide an efficacious treatment plan that will suit the child’s needs best.

In the various assessments, OTs note any difficulties a child with cerebral palsy may be experiencing in their daily lives and determine the cause of these problems. This may be based on a developmental assessment or due to some other factor such as a disease or disability. They will then implement the most appropriate intervention for the child.

Downs Syndrome

Paediatric OTs work with kids who have downs syndrome through play and engaging activities. The emphasis will be on fine motor skills (small muscle control), as well as typically developing skills such as play, social interaction, self-care, academics and safety skills.

Sensory Processing Disorder

OTs help children who have difficulty processing information from their senses. some strategies that help these children learn skills to manage this difficulty are:

Multisensory approaches: Which involve the use of visual, auditory, touch and movement.

Schedules & routines: To help the child learn skills in a predictable way.

Peer buddies (children who are similar age): Who can support each other during class lessons.

Learning Problems

OTs work with children who have learning problems to help them with their develop these skills (visual perceptual skills are huge with learning problems). Sometimes it is less about improving the learning delays and more about finding creative ways for the child to learn through different mediums.

Social-Emotional Challenges

OTs are also often called upon to work with children who have social-emotional challenges. OTs work with the child, family, and teachers. Occupational therapy is not strictly about improving academic performance but can also include strengthening skills and coping mechanisms for everyday life outside school.


OTs often work with children who have anxiety in relation to specific occupations or generally An OT would develop a plan that will help the child deal with their problems in a healthy way that doesn’t cause the child more anxiety. Self-esteem is often tied with an individuals ability to feel in control of their occupations.

Developmental delays

OTs, help children with developmental delays by incorporating play, leisure, visual perceptual skills, social interaction, academics, daily living skills, safety skills and other activities that help them gaining independence.

Behavioural difficulties

When working with children with behavioural difficulties an occupational therapist try and identify the underlying cause of the behaviour. They then work with the child and family to develop a range of interventions that help the child manage their responses to various stimuli.

Do Paediatric Occupational Therapists work with children with disabilities?

OTs can work with children with or without a diagnosis.

If a child is having difficulty in one area of their life that is significantly impacting their ability to perform daily living (e.g. handwriting), then they may also see an Occupational Therapist. They do not need a formalised diagnosis.

If you are still not sure if our services are right for you, please feel free to send us a message or give us a call on (07) 3301 1823

Helpful websites

Check out the following website for more information about Occupational Therapy for Children.

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