Introduction to Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapist hand writing

Occupational Therapy (OT) helps children become as independent as possible in all areas of their life, so that they can complete the daily tasks important to them. OT usually helps children who have sensory, cognitive or physical difficulties or disorders to increase their level of functioning. As such, OT can cover a broad range of areas and aspects of a person’s everyday life including physical, social and emotional demands. Unlike other therapies which are often very specific in terms of the goals or skills they are targeting (e.g. speech therapy looks at communication skills), OT can encompass every facet of life that is important to children.

To become a qualified OT, a therapist must complete a suitable university degree and be registered under AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency), which is the national board that oversees OTs.

Young-child-with-intellectual-disability-doing-schoolwork

How to know if your child needs OT

As discussed, OTs often work with children and their families who have problems in a wide variety of daily living skills. Some of the common medical conditions that children who engage in OT have include:

  • Autism
  • Birth defects
  • Injuries occurring at birth
  • Physical injuries (e.g. broken bones, injuries to the spinal cord or brain)
  • Learning difficulties
  • Developmental delays
  • Mental health issues
  • Behavioural difficulties
  • Burns
  • Amputations
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis

If your child has any diagnosed medical condition that is impacting on their ability to perform the tasks expected or important to them, they may benefit from OT engagement. Moreover, while OTs often work with children with established medical diagnoses or disabilities, OT may also help children with no diagnosis to become more self-sufficient. For example, a child may have some issues with handwriting and other fine motor skills (e.g. tying shoelaces). OT intervention can focus on building these skills, e.g. by developing hand strength, small muscle movements.

Occupational therapist working in the school classroom

Some benefits of OT

OT has a huge array of uses that can aid children to become more independent, which will generally also have positive effects on their confidence and self-esteem. Some common ways OT can help children are:

  • Helping develop basic skills to perform the activities of daily living (ADLs), such as eating, attending to personal hygiene, bathing, dressing, toileting.
  • Building fine motor skills in their hands so they can grasp objects better (helps with handwriting, computer use, grasping instruments or toys)
  • Improving gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination, e.g. catching/throwing objects, copying material in written form, playing sport
  • Expanding social and interpersonal skills by learning about positive behaviours, social etiquette/manners and how to better manage anxiety, anger or frustration
  • For older children or teenagers, building more advanced life skills such as cooking, preparing meals, safely catching public transport, shopping or budgeting
  • OTs can also prescribe equipment or assess home modifications e.g. splints, wheelchairs, bathroom equipment, to ensure that the child’s home environment can better support their physical needs
  • OTs qualified in OT driving assessments can also help teenagers with medical conditions or disabilities to learn how to drive, as well as prescribe necessary vehicle modifications. They can also prescribe modifications for children who are passengers and need special equipment to safely travel in their vehicles
  • OTs often

How often do you need OT?

The way in which OT engagement occurs depends on the child’s therapeutic needs, current functioning capacity and level of existing supports (family, social, formal) in place. In many instances, a child may require an OT functional assessment (for example for NDIS clients) to determine their current level of functioning and recommend most suitable supports. Children engaging in OT often also require regular and ongoing therapy sessions, commonly on a weekly or fortnightly basis. Sessions typically run for approximately an hour, though this can vary between different services. Further, the regularity of OT appointments is also usually influenced by financial considerations. If your child is an NDIS participant who requires OT, ensure to highlight these goals in their NDIS assessment/review.