Sunday 16 September 2018

What does an Occupational Therapist do?

As I sit here in the reception area of L's therapy provider, I've been pondering - what does an Occupational therapist actually do?

I will be the first to admit that prior to gaining L and O's diagnosis of Autism, I had no idea what an Occupational Therapist actually did! I know now first hand just how incredibly important and beneficial an Occupational Therapist can be. L's Occupational Therapists over the last three and a half years, have been instrumental in the dramatic improvements that L has made. And the same can be said for O's Occupational Therapists.

So how does an Occupational Therapist actually help?

If you have ever sat in on an Occupational Therapy session, you may have noticed that a lot of play and a lot of talking occurs during the session. To the outsider it may appear that there is no benefit of this to the child but there certainly is.

Let's go back to basics ...

An Occupational Therapist can help children, and adults, with a variety of issues from cognitive skills to physical and sensory skills to motor skills and much much more. Occupational Therapy deals with fine motor skills, visual-perception skills, cognitive skills and sensory processing difficulties among others!

But when you hear the word "Occupational," you tend to think of adults. Adults after all have an occupation, or paid work, and yet children do not.

However while children may not have an official occupation, their goal in life is to play - yes play is an occupation - and to learn. Children need to practise skills and learn new skills to assist them later in life and the best way to do this is through play.

When it is simplified, Occupational Therapy is all about making sure that people can do the "occupations" that are important to them. For children - their occupation is to play and learn! If play is fun, children tend to learn and take in more.

Occupational Therapy can benefit individuals who have been diagnosed with Autism, those with sensory processing difficulties, individuals who have sustained traumatic injuries, individuals with developmental delays, individuals who have learning difficulties, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Dyspraxia, Cerebral Palsy and many more difficulties. Occupational Therapy can basically assist an individual who has difficulties with functional skills.

For a child, the first few sessions with an Occupational Therapist is all about assessment. The Occupational Therapist will assess and evaluate (through play) the child's current skill level and may compare their current level to the developmentally appropriate level for their age. While it sounds odd that child's skills are assessed, it is vital that this assessment occurs. Based on their current skill level, a plan can be put in place as to where the child needs to be. 

Both O and L's Occupational Therapy plans are based on where they both currently are and where we want them to be in twelve months time - we want them both to be able to self regulate their emotions. We want them both to be able to recognise their own and others emotions.

Throughout both O and L's Occupational Therapy sessions, assessments are made on a continual basis against their goals. This is to ensure that the goals are being met but also so that the goals can be updated when needed. Every twelve months we sit down with the therapists and reassess the goals.

The great thing about the Occupational Therapy sessions is that neither O nor L realise that they are learning new skills. They both think that they are just having fun! L makes me giggle quietly on a regular basis when he decides that he needs to go to Occupational Therapy instead of school because school is too hard when in actual fact he is working harder in his Occupational Therapy than he is at school!

During L's Occupational Therapy sessions he is working on …..

  • Developing his fine motor skills which assist him with his hand-eye coordination and his pencil grip for school. Fine motor skills also assists with developing L's play skills (hitting a ball with a bat,) buttoning up clothes, being able to do up a zipper. Up until a few weeks ago L struggled with zippers and would not even attempt to do one up. He now has the confidence to try to do up a zipper without losing his cool!
  • L is beginning to recognise the internal (interoception) feelings of his emotions.
  • L is working on his turn taking and sharing skills.
  • L has learnt and is continuing to learn how to interact socially with his peers.
  • L is learning how to regulate his own emotions. Learning how to stay calm and brave when things get a little hard.
  • L is strengthening his proximal stability.
  • Everyday life skills and much, much more!

I have a lot of respect for all of L and O's therapists. Occupational Therapy has given L and O so much hope and has increased their confidence that they are able to overcome challenges that they both come across in life.


  1. Oh my gosh, this post touched my heart! I want to become an Occupational Therapist Assistant so I can help children and adults! xoxo

  2. It is interesting to learn about these things. Thanks for sharing some insight into your day and your son's day. It's so good that there are therapists to help people in so many ways.

  3. This is such an awesome resource for someone just starting to navigate through an Special Needs diagnosis. I have 2 girls on the spectrum, we have definitely had our fair share of OT’s. They are amazing wonderful people who change lives with what they do!!

  4. My nephew attends OT weekly and it has truly helped him so much. Thanks for sharing this information.

  5. OTs help teach very importanf life skills to kids through play—which is how kids learn. Great post!

  6. I love that you share with us your passion as an OT! One of my college roommates is currently in grad school to be an OT <3 She is so excited to start her career!

  7. OT's do so much and for the longest time I didn't know what they did. But they are awesome!

  8. Clearly, It is an engaging article for us which you have provided here about occupational therapist. This is a great resource to enhance knowledge about it. Thank you. Physical Therapy Fairborn


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