Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Pediatric occupational therapy helps a child reach goals and developmental milestones that improve their daily life. It focuses on how your child moves, plays and communicates with the world around them. A healthcare provider may recommend occupational therapy after an injury or if your child has a neurological condition.

Overview

What is pediatric occupational therapy?

Pediatric occupational therapists provide treatment to help children meet developmental milestones, overcome sensory challenges and improve self-care, play and self-regulation skills. Occupational therapy can help your child in the following areas:

  • Moving (fine motor skills like using the small muscles of their hands).
  • Learning (cognitive skills).
  • Playing (social and emotional skills).
  • Activities of daily living (dressing and feeding).
  • Skills needed for their education (pre-writing, writing and scissor skills).

Pediatric occupational therapy can encourage children to write with a pencil, feed themselves and play with their peers, for example. Each child enrolled in pediatric occupational therapy will have their own individualized goals to meet their needs after a full evaluation.

Children (infants to teenagers) may need occupational therapy if they have:

  • A congenital (present at birth) condition that affects their physical or cognitive function.
  • A condition that affects their development.
  • A neurological condition, such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or cerebral palsy.
  • An injury that requires using adaptive equipment like prosthetics or mobility devices.

Who performs pediatric occupational therapy?

A pediatric occupational therapist is a highly trained healthcare professional. They’re certified in occupational therapy with a specialty in pediatrics and child development. Pediatric occupational therapists can work in hospitals and clinics, rehabilitation centers, schools and more.

What does pediatric occupational therapy treat or manage?

Pediatric occupational therapy can treat or manage physical or cognitive conditions that may affect your child’s:

  • Movement and coordination.
  • Thoughts, perception and memory.
  • Sensory processing.
  • Visual-motor and visual-perceptual skills.
  • Self-regulation and coping skills.
  • Mental health conditions.

Common conditions that may require seeing a pediatric occupational therapist include:

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Procedure Details

What happens during pediatric occupational therapy?

Pediatric occupational therapy can help your child learn new skills. This takes time. You can talk with a pediatric occupational therapist or a healthcare provider to learn more about what to expect during your child’s first appointment, second appointment, etc. as there may be differences in how each facility runs its program.

Pediatric occupational therapy evaluation

Your child’s first visit with a pediatric occupational therapist is an evaluation. This is a session that helps your child’s therapist learn more about what your child can do and what skills therapy can help them develop.

A parent or caregiver will be in the same room as your child and the pediatric occupational therapist. It’s important that other siblings aren’t in the same room during this evaluation.

During this session, your child’s therapist will offer assessments that review your child’s fine motor skills and observe your child’s behavior as they play and move. Examples of what your child might do during their first occupational therapy session include:

  • Writing or coloring.
  • Eating familiar foods with various textures (crunchy, soft, etc.).
  • Stringing beads or stacking blocks.

Your child’s therapist will also ask you about their daily habits, your concerns about your child’s development and if you have any questions about what to expect. This initial session can take an hour or up to two hours to complete.

Pediatric occupational therapy sessions

After the initial evaluation, your child’s pediatric occupational therapist will create a treatment plan to identify goals for your child to reach. Each session following the evaluation will incorporate your child’s goals with age-specific activities to keep your child interested and engaged. Activities that your child does won’t necessarily be the same as the activities of one of their peers. Examples of activities include:

  • Writing the alphabet.
  • Putting on their socks and shoes.
  • Playing a game.
  • Practicing using assistive equipment and devices.

Risks / Benefits

What are the benefits of pediatric occupational therapy?

Pediatric occupational therapy can help your child meet their personal goals and reach developmental milestones for their age. These may include but aren’t limited to the following:

  • Improving school performance.
  • Gaining independence.
  • Boosting confidence and self-esteem.
  • Playing well with others.
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What are the risks of pediatric occupational therapy?

There aren’t risks associated with pediatric occupational therapy. Your child may encounter the following while participating in pediatric occupational therapy:

  • Stress.
  • Fear.
  • Frustration.
  • Confusion.
  • Sore muscles.
  • Lack of interest.
  • Avoidant behavior.

Supporting your child and keeping an open line of communication with your child’s therapist can prevent some of these emotional responses. Your child will feel more comfortable expressing their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Your child’s therapist can help you learn more about how you can assist your child while they’re in occupational therapy.

Recovery and Outlook

How long will my child need pediatric occupational therapy?

The duration of each occupational therapy session and the frequency varies based on your child’s needs. Similar to going to school, a child won’t learn everything they need to learn in one day. They need continued practice and encouragement. Your child’s occupational therapist can give you guidance on their progress and the expected time they’ll need to meet their goals.

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Is there anything I can do to make pediatric occupational therapy easier on my child?

You can support your child’s goals by practicing with them at home as instructed by your child’s therapist. Each child will reach their goals at their own pace. It’s important to have patience and understanding while your child learns new skills. Don’t get impatient with them if they’re not meeting their goals as expected. Talk to your child’s therapist to see if there are ways that you can help them outside of therapy.

When to Call the Doctor

When should I call my child’s pediatric occupational therapist?

Contact a pediatric occupational therapist if your child:

  • Misses developmental milestones for their age.
  • Has trouble interacting with people or objects in their environment.
  • Avoids certain textures.
  • Reverts to old behaviors after learning new ones.

Additional Details

How does occupational therapy differ from pediatric occupational therapy?

Age is the main difference between occupational therapy for adults and pediatric occupational therapy. The goals of occupational therapy are the same across all age groups: to help you build skills that you can use in your daily life. The activities of a child are different from the activities of an adult. For example, a child’s treatment may be school-focused to help them learn in a classroom. An adult may want to improve their skills to adapt to the workplace.

Does insurance cover pediatric occupational therapy?

Most insurance companies cover pediatric occupational therapy. Contact your insurance company to learn more about what’s covered under your plan.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Pediatric occupational therapy takes patience. Your child will need time to adjust and adapt the new skills they learn into their daily routine. If you have any questions about your child’s progress or notice behaviors at home that differ from therapy, let your child’s occupational therapist know. They’ll do their best to help your child meet their goals so they can reach their full potential.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/21/2023.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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