What is Occupational Therapy?

New World OT_24 Many parents aren’t sure what occupational therapy is and if it could benefit their child.  Occupational therapy focuses on the various skills needed to do everyday tasks. Occupational therapy has many benefits for a child’s motor skills, social skills, problem solving and self-help abilities.

Occupational Therapy Services Can Address:

  • Fine Motor Skills:  such as a child’s ability to manipulate toys, hold a writing or eating utensil, and complete classroom activities.
  • Visual Motor Skills:  this includes the skills needed to complete a puzzle, copy noted from a classroom board, or cutting out a shape.
  • Play Skills:  this includes a child’s ability to play appropriately with peers and to tolerate unpredictability of engaging with same aged peers.
  • Self-Care Skills: such as hygiene, clothing management during a bathroom break, getting dressed in the morning, brushing teeth and safety awareness.
  • School Skills:  this includes any skills required to be independent within a classroom, including cutting, coloring and writing letters.
  • Self-Help Skills:  this includes a child’s ability to self-sooth when upset, manage frustrations and cope with unpredictability.
  • Attention and Behavior difficulties:  therapy can provide guidance and suggestions to manage difficult behaviors at home and within a classroom.

Occupational Therapists have experience with the following…

  • Sensory process disorders
  • Premature birth
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Feeding problems
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Intellectual impairment
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Down Syndrome
  • Autism spectrum disorder


Fine motor skills are the skills needed to complete small tasks that require the use of the hands and fingers. Fine motor skills are broken down into the following:

  • Reaching, which is the extension and movement of the arm for grasping or placing objects
  • Grasping, which is the attainment of an object with the hand
  • Carrying, which is transportation of a hand-held object from one place to another
  • Voluntary release, which is the intentional letting go of an object in the hand after grasp

More complex fine motor skills include in-hand manipulation, which is the ability to move and position one or more objects within one hand without using the other hand to assist, and bilateral hand use, which is the use of two hands together to accomplish an activity. Young children with fine motor difficulties may appear clumsy, display poor hand-eye coordination, and have difficulty holding onto objects. As children with fine motor delay get older, they may seem disinterested in tabletop activities, like writing, drawing, crafts, and building (such as with Legos), as these activities will be challenging for them to complete.

To identify a child’s current level of performance related to his fine motor skills, our occupational therapists will administer standardized assessments, either the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOT-2) or the Peabody Developmental Motor Scales (PMDS-2), depending on the child’s age, to identify the child’s baseline of functioning related to his fine motor skills, and complete clinical observations of the child’s fine motor performance. These assessments and observations provide the occupational therapist with the information necessary to promote development of the child’s fine motor abilities, as well as to see where the child should be performing for his/her age.


Following the evaluation, our therapists work with children who experience difficulties with their fine motor skills by creating appropriate goals for the child, followed by intervention planning with activities that are fun, yet address the fine motor skills necessary for the child’s age. Activities that may be completed in therapy or suggested for home include arts and crafts such as finger painting or beading; building games such as Legos and Jenga; cutting, tearing, and folding paper; using clothespins; hitting balloons back and forth; completing puzzles; sorting objects; playing card games; putting pegs into a peg board; tasks that involve handwriting; as well as activities that involve twisting and screwing on objects.

Each activity and therapeutic activity are customized to best address a child’s needs and skills level.  Therapists suggest activities to attempt at home and advice for the greatest carryover of skills between all environments.

Transitioning Back To School

The first week of school can be an exciting and stressful time of the year.  There are many unknowns of the new school year whether it’s your child’s first time attending school, your child is transitioning to a new school or beginning the year with a new teacher.

The first month of school is a great time to communicate with your child’s teacher about learning styles, behavioral strategies and any helpful accommodations.  Some children benefit from more fluid expectations and rules where others require structure and predictability.  Sharing insights about how your child learns and the best ways to manage any behaviors within the classroom will enhance their school experience.

Classrooms can be overstimulating and overwhelming at times.  Talking with your child about conflict resolution strategies within the classroom can be helpful. Strategies may include telling an unruly peer “I don’t like that”, moving to a different part of the classroom and/or asking a teacher for help.

Adaptations to the classroom can be beneficial to a child’s experience.  I often suggest having a “yellow zone” or “cool down area”.  This is an area set up to have decreased stimuli that a child is free to go to whenever they’re feeling overwhelmed.  I strongly suggest that this area is not used for disciplinary purposes or as a “time out”.  Encouraging a child’s self awareness and advocacy with sensory regulation will improve their ability to self-regulate in the future.  If a child has difficulty completing daily tasks a sequencing chart may be beneficial.  This can be a laminated picture on a child’s desk or individual pictures that can be removed when the task is complete.

Communicating with teachers and accommodating for a child’s learning style can greatly enhance a child’s experience and success within a classroom.  A child’s confidence and self-worth is an absolute priority and will strengthen learning capabilities.  The foundations for learning that are established this year will continue to benefit your child in future school years.