Written by: Stacy Kramer, OT Reg. (Ont)
Occupational Therapist & Clinical Director at Toronto Children’s Therapy Center

The term occupational therapy confuses many people, especially as it relates to children.  Despite what the name suggests, occupational therapists do not help children find jobs! Occupational therapists help children with the occupations of childhood. This includes mastering skills required as a student, family member and friend, not to mention succeeding at a child’s main occupation – playing! If a child begins to struggle with an expected task, an occupational therapist acts like a detective in order to  determine whether there are motor, sensory or perceptual skills that need to be strengthened in order to master the task.

There are many reasons why a child might be referred for occupational therapy intervention. The reasons may be as diverse as difficulties with writing, gross motor skills,  coordination, organization, and difficulties with self-regulation. Whatever the referral reason, an occupational therapist will strive to look beyond the skill deficit in order to determine where the breakdown in development may have occurred.

An occupational therapist might use an approach to therapy that may appear surprising. For instance, an OT working on writing skills might spend time playing a ball game with a child during the session, or a child working on grasp development might be encouraged to crawl through a tunnel.  Ball games allow for development of bilateral coordination and eye-hand coordination, basic skills required for writing. Crawling through the tunnel allows the child to work on arm and shoulder strength.  All aspects of a child’s development contribute to the learning of each new skill and we need to consider the child as a whole when supporting the many occupations of childhood.