What is Occupational Therapy?

Addressing the misconceptions and commonly asked questions.

As an occupational therapist, the number one question I get from parents, caregivers, and even other professionals is “What is pediatric OT?”. Occupational therapy encompasses so many areas of function, it can be hard to button down pages and pages of information into a succinct blurb in the moment. Below are some clarifications and answers to the most common questions surrounding occupational therapy.

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What do you work on?

Occupational therapists can work on many different areas including: dressing skills, grooming skills, feeding, sensory processing, handwriting, and pre-writing, attention and executive function, gross motor skills, fine motor skills, emotional regulation, etc. 

Why do you find jobs for children?

Short answer is, “We don’t!”. The term “occupation” used to mean anything you do, and in more modern iterations has taken on meaning for “work or career”. Occupational therapy focuses on promoting independence with anything you need to do, want to do, or have to do as part of your daily life. Brushing your teeth, going to Target, getting dressed, swinging on a swing at the park can all be considered occupations. And those are the areas OT’s work on with children and adults! 

So, you are basically a PT, right?

Nope! While we love our PT colleagues, and there can be a lot of overlap, we actually have very different jobs. Physical therapists work to “improve their [clients] ability to move, reduce or manage pain, restore function, and prevent disability” (APTA, 2021). Occupational therapists work to promote independence in daily occupations – whether that be improving strength, coordination, balance, fine motor skills, adapting the environment, etc. in many different performance areas. 

Why do your sessions look like play?

If you have ever seen an occupational therapy clinic or an OT session, it probably looks like the clinician is just playing games with the child or being silly. In reality, we want the sessions to look like that. In order to develop rapport with your child, and to keep little ones engaged, we often disguise our exercises in games or movement activities. This way, your child has fun with their OT, while also working towards their goals. Rest assured, we are making progress towards the goals and improving function while being silly and fun.

Do you have any other questions about occupational therapy, or if your child would benefit from occupational therapy services?

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Kaelyn Green, MA, OTR/L

Kaelyn Green is a licensed occupational therapist at Valued Voices. She is certified by the University of Southern California in Sensory Integration and is an advocate for addressing underlying sensory functioning in order to improve occupational performance.  She is passionate about meeting children and families where they are at and seeks to tailor interventions to the unique needs of her clients. When she is not working, you will find Kaelyn taking care of her two goldendoodles, working in her garden, or taking trips to the Central Coast.