What is Occupational Therapy?

What is Occupational Therapy?


April is National Occupational Therapy Month, and occupational therapy can be life-changing for many of St. Mary’s Kids. OT focuses on helping people with physical, sensory or cognitive disabilities to achieve independence in all areas of their lives. For St. Mary’s Kids, occupational therapy can help them enhance their self-esteem and cognitive, sensory and motor skills.

What do occupational therapists do?

When people hear about occupational therapy, they often think of skills and tools for adults that can help people on the job. However, occupational therapy also helps kids to develop more skills for their lives that help them play, grow and learn at school. Indeed, OT can help to evaluate children’s activities and school performance in comparison to developmental age milestones as well as helping those children to obtain better outcomes.

Occupational therapists can help children with psychological, environmental and social issues as well as physical adjustments. For children like those at St. Mary’s, who deal with medically complex conditions or critical illnesses, occupational therapy can be an important part of their comprehensive healthcare plan.

Physical therapy can also help kids to improve their health, but it serves a different purpose than occupational therapy. While physical therapy focuses on overcoming pain, improving strength or range of motion or handling gross motor functionality, occupational therapy deals more with underlying skills, such as sensory processing, cognition, visual perception or fine motor skills.

Who can occupational therapy help?

There are a number of children who can benefit from occupational therapy related to different conditions and medical issues, including many who receive treatment at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children. These medical concerns include:

  • sensory processing problems
  • learning difficulties
  • traumatic brain or spine injuries
  • birth injuries
  • behavioral or mental health concerns
  • autism and pervasive developmental disorders
  • developmental and cognitive delays
  • juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • multiple sclerosis and other chronic illnesses
  • cerebral palsy
  • spina bifida
  • amputations or post-surgical conditions
  • burns or severe injuries to the hands
  • orthopedic problems including broken bones

Occupational therapists are licensed practitioners who can help children with a wide range of goals and activities. For example, they can help children to improve their fine motor skills, allowing them to write by hand or easily grasp toys. They can help other kids to improve their hand-eye coordination to help them play with other children on the athletic field or copy down a teacher’s notes from a blackboard. Occupational therapy can also be important for kids with behavioral challenges. They can help to teach skills to help children to deal positively with their emotions, including writing their feelings or exercising rather than hitting or acting out.

OT can help other kids to improve their social skills, helping them to make friends and interact more comfortably in a group. For children with physical disabilities, occupational therapy can help teach skills like feeding themselves, writing by hand or using a computer. Kids with developmental disabilities can learn how to dress themselves, bathe, cook and handle hygiene concerns, a process that can put kids on the road to independence and self-determination. For children that need special health equipment to support their goals and activities, an occupational therapist can evaluate and recommend items like wheelchairs, communication devices or bathing aids.

Occupational therapy: changing lives

Shaquel is one of St. Mary’s Kids whose quality of life has been improved significantly thanks to occupational therapy. He is 5 years old, and his sense of humor and love of laughter and fun has charmed everyone at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, where he receives long-term care. Every week, he receives occupational therapy as well as physical and speech therapy. These treatments have helped him to gain new control and abilities over his body. Shaquel can now move from a sitting position to a standing position and he is working on standing with less or no support. He has learned sign language as well as verbal skills that help him to communicate and play with other children.

Shaquel is just one of St. Mary’s Kids to benefit from the professional occupational therapy services available at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children. As a specialized pediatric post-acute facility, St. Mary’s offers both inpatient and outpatient OT services for children with special healthcare needs and medically complex conditions. Because St. Mary’s goal is to help children with complex needs obtain greater independence and growth, occupational therapy is an important part of the services that we provide to children and their families.

Occupational Therapy at St. Mary’s Kids

St. Mary’s Hospital for Children takes pride in providing exceptional care that helps critically ill children learn to manage their conditions and improve their quality of life. We help children to heal on all levels, not only physically, but also with a range of therapeutic services and recreational activities that help children to play, socialize, learn and enjoy their childhood.

If your child could benefit from occupational therapy, you can reach out for help that can change and improve his or her life. Occupational therapy can help kids grow and develop more than ever seemed possible. Contact St. Mary’s Hospital for Children at info@st.maryskids.org to request an in-depth evaluation and assessment that can recommend strategies and treatments, including occupational therapy, to benefit your child.


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