As an Occupational Therapist, my focus is to provide support to those who need assistance completing functional daily tasks and activities. This may be through building skills to complete tasks or adapting the environment to meet the child’s needs. This can also include working with Physical Therapists and Speech-Language Pathologists regarding concerns of movement and communication.
Wait, what is the difference?
Occupational Therapy looks at the individual in terms of whether they can participate in meaningful activities or daily tasks that promote independence. Our specialty is analyzing an activity and determining the skills necessary to complete it. From there, we can either help the person build those skills or alter the environment so they can be successful in the activity.
For example, can a child play well in the sandbox (literally) with others?
If not, OTs dissect the factors that may be hindering this ability. Perhaps they don’t like the feel of the sand (tactile processing)? Are they overwhelmed by so many peers in the sandbox (overresponsive sensory system)? Are they so excited that they are tossing sand everywhere without being aware of or considering others (self-regulation)? Once the key factors are identified, we can help the child build the skills necessary to tolerate the feel of sand, allow the number of friends in their personal space, or even how to control their arousal level in order to play well with others.
But, let’s say other factors may be involved. Maybe the child has difficulties maneuvering in the sand due to muscle weakness and coordination of limbs? If that is the case, a Physical Therapist may be referred as they are the experts on how the body moves. Their specialty is to analyze the mechanics of the human body and determine what may be affecting appropriate mobility, whether it is muscle weakness, endurance, flexibility, or motor control. A primary role of Physical Therapists is reducing the impact of movement impairments that lead to functional limitations. This includes anything affecting the child’s quality of movement, posture, alignment, and safety.
Although Speech-Language Pathology is self-explanatory, it may not be so easy to recognize when a child may need to referral to see them. In our sandbox scenario, maybe the child who appears overwhelmed by their peers in the sandbox has difficulties formulating sentences in order to socialize and therefore remains quiet (expressive language). Or maybe the child who appears hyperactive may have difficulties understanding what is being said to him and is possibly unaware of their surroundings (auditory processing and/or receptive language). Speech Language Pathologists assesses a person’s speech, language, pragmatics and social skills, cognitive communication, auditory processing, and even eating/swallowing abilities. From there, they can help build the skills needed for the child to express their thoughts, to listen and understand what is being said to them, and to communicate appropriately (whether that is verbally or through other means such as a communication device).
So whether your child may need to see one or all disciplines, just know that we are all pulling in the same direction, allowing your child to be successful in any meaningful activity or task they participate in.
“Physical vs Occupational Therapy“, Therapy Playground, 2012.
“What Is the Difference Between Occupational and Physical Therapy for Children?“, Northshore Pediatric Therapy.