Pediatric Occupational Therapy For Children And Its Benefits

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Occupational therapy for children includes treatment for movement- and coordination-associated problems. The therapy helps improve essential skills to carry out daily tasks such as getting dressed and writing. The therapy also focuses on motor planning, balance, coordination, fine and gross motor skills, and self-regulation skills.

Read the post to learn more about the benefits of occupational therapy for children and the conditions for which occupational therapy would help a child.

Who Might Need Occupational Therapy?

According to the University of Utah Health, pediatric occupational therapy is needed when a child has difficulty in the following areas of development:

1. General developmental delays

  • Delay in developing age-appropriate play, motor, and social skills
  • Not meeting expected milestones of development
  • Delay in sitting, crawling, and walking

2. Delayed or absent fine motor skills

  • Using toys
  • Solving puzzles
  • Holding a pen or pencil
  • Using spoons or forks
  • Using scissors
  • Zipping and unzipping
  • Buttoning and unbuttoning
  • Tying and untying shoelaces
  • Coloring, writing, drawing, tracing, etc.
  • Forming letters or numbers
  • Showing lack of interest in or avoiding activities that require fine motor skills

3. Delayed or absent gross motor skills

  • Climbing and descending stairs
  • Coordinating both sides of the body
  • Differentiating between the left and right sides
  • Balance and coordination
  • Ball play
  • Fearful of the feet leaving the ground
  • Crossing the midline of their body while playing or performing tasks
  • Avoiding games and tasks that need gross motor skills

4. Visual processing

  • Problems with spacing, identification, and sizing of letters
  • Problems with copying or identifying shapes or letters
  • Difficulty finding objects in a cluttered environment

5. Oral motor/ oral sensory

  • Excessive drooling
  • Using the front teeth instead of the molars to chew food
  • Inability to use a cup at an age-appropriate time
  • Tiredness after a meal or snack
  • Excessively picky when eating

6. Sensory processing

  • Highly sensitive to sound, touch, or movement
  • Less sensitive to some sensations (high tolerance to cuts, bruises, temperature, etc.)
  • Constantly moving, jumping, crashing, etc.
  • Difficulty adjusting to changes
  • Inability to self-soothe
  • Easily distracted by stimuli
  • Emotionally reactive

7. Social interaction skills

  • Problems in interacting with family and peers
  • Problems in adapting to new environments
  • Delays in language development
  • Very specific interest areas
  • Difficulty coping in the school environment

8. Learning challenges

  • Problems with concentration and focus at school
  • Easily distracted
  • Difficulty following instructions
  • Quickly gets tired at school
  • Poor impulse control
  • Low energy or hyperactive
  • Difficulty learning new things

Benefits Of Pediatric Occupational Therapy

The following are the benefits of occupational therapy for children.

  • Helps with sensory processing management
  • Allows children to engage in play and other activities
  • Develops their skills to adapt to any changes in the environment
  • Helps them improve ability to focus
  • Helps them practice appropriate social interactions and communication
  • Helps them perform tasks independently, such as brushing teeth and combing hair.

What Happens In Pediatric Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy goals are specifically designed for each child based on their individual needs. First, the therapist becomes aware of the child’s areas of strength and weakness to design exercises and activities that focus on improving the child’s areas for improvement.

For example, activities such as picking things up with tweezers might be added to the plan to improve the child’s fine motor skills and hand strength, while jumping jacks or running through an obstacle course might be suggested to improve the child’s gross motor skills.

In addition, the therapist might also include routine activities such as buttoning a shirt, zipping up pants, or getting dressed to help with motor planning. These can help increase independence in activities of daily living.

All in all, occupational therapy aims at improving children’s cognitive, physical, social, and motor skills and enabling them to become more independent.

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

Occupational therapists are found in many different settings. Some service providers visit young children at home to provide therapy, while others conduct therapy sessions in private sensory gyms.

In many cases, pediatric occupational therapists work in schools. They help children with learning and fine motor skills inside the classroom and work on their gross motor skills outside of the classrooms.

How To Explain Occupational Therapy To A Child?

It is vital you explain to children the purpose and goals of occupational therapy to avoid confusion and give them an idea of what to expect. A child who understands the purpose of occupational therapy well will be able to convey the struggles they face in their day-to-day life to the occupational therapist.

Ask your child’s therapists about the planned activities in the upcoming session so you can prepare your child for it. Make it sound fun and emphasize how it will help them become more independent in life.

Occupational therapy for children may be required if they have developmental delays, learning challenges, and delay or absence of various developmental skills. It equips such children to complete everyday activities, improving their ability to focus and enabling them to learn essential life skills. Your pediatrician can help you assess whether your child needs occupational therapy, and the therapy is tailored to your child’s strengths, weaknesses, and improvement areas. Before enrolling your child in a school, you can also inquire about any occupational therapy services they provide.

Key Pointers

  • A child may need occupational therapy if they have growth and developmental delays.
  • An occupational therapy is customized based on the child’s needs.
  • It helps children improve their focus, develop skills and gain independence.
  • The activities may include daily tasks like buttoning a shirt and sometimes special games like obstacle courses to assist a child gain control over their skills.


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Dana Sciullo

Dana Sciullo is a licensed and registered occupational therapist in the US, specializing in pediatrics. She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and Masters degree in Occupational Therapy from the University of Pittsburgh.  Dana has been working as an occupational therapist since 2015 in multiple settings including schools, outpatient clinics, and telehealth. Having completed extensive continuing education in the areas... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. She also holds a certificate in lactation counselling from iNational Health... more