What Does An Occupational Therapist Actually Do?

Sep 24, 2018 | 0 comments

So who is an Occupational Therapist?

You’ve probably heard the term used in hospitals, by specialists and even your friends when referring to treatment they or a family member may be receiving. But do you actually know what an Occupational Therapist (OT) does? There are a variety of fields you may see an OT in – Aged Care, WorkCover, Hospitals, Community Settings but here we’ll talk about what a Paediatric OT does.

An Occupational Therapist is a highly trained professional who, after attending university for many years, is skilled in helping clients improve their quality of life and skills in order to effectively function in both everyday and working life. They work with individuals who have conditions that are mentally, physically, developmentally, socially or emotionally disabling. Basically, an OT will put into place exercises or processes that will enable the client to develop what is currently missing in order to live life to the fullest.

Paediatric OT settings:

An OT may see a client in a clinic specifically set up to provide an experience for a child, for example a sensory gym. Additionally, an OT may see a client at home to view how the child performs their activities of daily living, how the child interacts with their family and any equipment that may allow the child to develop. If your child is in hospital they may see an OT there who could provide casting and splinting or skill building. OT’s in the school setting could be provided to give group therapy to children or be employed by the parent to see the child within the School environment. Additionally, you could find an OT with a child or adolescent accessing the community such as a shopping centre or on public transport.

Who sees an OT?

The sorts of diagnoses a child may have differ greatly. An OT will typically see children that have been diagnosed with conditions such as Autism Spectrum, Attention Deficit Disorders, Intellectual Disability, Dyslexia, Cerebral Palsy, Developmental Disorders, Down syndrome. Additionally, some children may not have been diagnosed with a condition but have difficulties with sensory processing, friendships and/or behavioural difficulties.

What does an OT work on with a child?

An OT assessed a child to see what areas of development they are not functioning at compared to their peers. Those areas could be:

  • Gross Motor Development – for example motor planning, strength, endurance, core stability, posture.
  • Fine Motor Development – such as handwriting, scissoring, shoe laces, feeding independently with utensils.
  • Executive Functioning – Memory, planning and initiating tasks, organisation, shifting thinking.
  • Social/Emotional – impulse control/self regulation, making and keeping friendships, turn taking, flexible thinking, theory of mind (knowing that other people have different ideas than you)
  • Sensory Processing – feeding issues, clothing sensitivities, attention disorders, noise sensitivities.
  • Activities of Daily Living – an OT will assist with adaption or skill building in areas such as dressing, feeding, transport, hygiene and grooming, toileting, mobility, managing money, safety and travelling.
  • Equipment prescription – such as wheelchairs
  • Home modifications – an OT may modify your bathroom or kitchen to be easily accessible


Why does it look like they’re just ‘playing‘?

Your OT is the unique position to use fun and meaningful activities (often games) that match the skills we are working on to build the motor and sensory foundations needed for children to function independently. For example, a game of Trouble is perfect for fine motor precision and turn taking; Monkey Bars work on a upper limb strength and coordination, intrinsic hand muscles and the proprioceptive and vestibular sensory systems.

Where do I start and who pays for the sessions?

Your GP or Paediatrician can refer your child to an OT. Your GP will let you know if your child may be eligible for a health care plan to be rebated under Medicare. Children can now be funded under the National Disability Insurance Scheme to see an OT that is registered, such as Sensory Spectrum OT.