Occupational therapy is a health care profession concerned with a person’s ability to perform daily occupations, including self-care, productive and leisure activities.

An Occupational Therapist can assist with fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social skills, cognitive and perceptual skills, hand writing, sensory processing and self care skills.  Therapy is individually designed for each child and incorporates lots of activities which are fun and children like to participate in.

Occupational therapists support and promote the development and engagement of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, and their families or other caregivers, in everyday routines.

 These routines include play, rest and sleep, activities of daily living, education, and social participation. Occupational therapy practitioners, as part of the multidisciplinary team, provide services to children and their families in a variety of settings, including hospitals, early intervention programs, private clinics, child care, Head Start and Early Head Start programs, preschool and pre-kindergarten programs, and at home.

Occupational therapy is concerned with a child’s ability to participate in daily life activities or “occupations.”

Occupational therapists help children with and without social– emotional, physical, cognitive, communication, and adaptive behavior challenges prepare for and perform important learning and developmental activities. Through an understanding of the impact of disability, illness, and impairment on a child’s development, play, ability to learn new skills, and overall occupational performance, occupational therapists design interventions that promote healthy development, establish needed skills, and modify environments to prevent further disability, all in support of participation in daily activities. Occupational therapy practitioners also play a key role in educating parents, caregivers, and program staff about disability and the development of children with diverse health and learning needs.

Occupational therapy practitioners

Occupational therapy practitioners bring specific knowledge and expertise to the team to appropriately address children’s needs and collaborate with parents and other members of the team to

  • provide strategies to facilitate full participation of all children in daily routines;
  • assess children’s developmental and learning needs; 
  • plan and implement relevant intervention strategies and developmentally appropriate activities;
  • reduce environmental barriers that limit a child’s participation in family, learning, and community-based activities;
  • identify needed assistive technology devices and supports; and
  • prepare children and their families for transition to preschool, school, and other community based programs.

Occupational therapy is an important service

Occupational therapy is an important service for young children with a variety of conditions, including premature birth, low-birth weight, congenital anomalies, neurological disorders, sensory processing difficulties, challenging behaviours, neuromuscular disease, prenatal drug exposure, and autism. Services address feeding skills, sensory integration, motor development, environmental exploration, play skills, adaptive behaviours, and interactions between the child and others (including caregivers and peers). In early intervention, occupational therapy practitioners support the family’s or caregiver’s capacity to care for the child.

In preschool settings, practitioners support the achievement of developmental and learning outcomes for children by facilitating social skills development, motor development, self regulatory skills, emergent literacy, and the development of adaptive and self-care skills. Occupational therapists are particularly skilled in helping children access curricular activities by contributing to the design and planning of activities, including identifying any needed accommodations or modifications.

Occupational therapists work with other members of the team, including physicians, nurses, speech-language pathologists, psychologists, physical therapists, teachers, and parents to identify the needs of infants and toddlers and their families. They target desired outcomes and determine the services, supports, and modifications or accommodations needed to achieve those outcomes. When occupational therapy expertise is needed to help the child and family meet their desired goals, services should be included in the child’s program.

Occupational therapy practitioners collaborate with teachers and parents to identify the child’s goals and determine the services, supports, and modifications or accommodations needed to achieve those goals. When the team decides that therapy is needed for the child to meet his or her goals, occupational therapy should be included in the child’s programming.


Gross motor skills involve the large muscles of the body that enable activities such as walking, jumping and reaching. A person’s gross motor skills depend on their muscle tone and strength.

Children with gross motor difficulties may demonstrate:

  • Avoidance of gross motor activities
  • Preference for sedentary activities
  • Delay in developing motor milestones, e.g. walking
  • Have poor body awareness, clumsy, bump and trip frequently
  • Difficulty jumping, hopping and skipping
  • Difficulty learning exercise
FINE MOTOR (Hand Skills)

Fine motor skills involve the small muscles of the body that enable functions like writing, cutting, manipulating small objects and performing personal care tasks. Fine motor skills involve fine motor control, dexterity and strength.

Children with fine motor difficulties may demonstrate:

  • Difficulty holding a pencil correctly
  • Delayed development of a dominant hand
  • Difficulty trying shoelaces or using cutlery
  • Poor manipulation of buttons, zippers and other fasteners
  • Avoidance of fine motor tasks
  • Difficulty using scissors

Children with handwriting difficulties may demonstrate:

  • Poor tripod pinch
  • Incorrectly formed letters
  • Reversals of letters and numbers
  • Legibility
  • Slow writing speed
  • Finds writing different text types challenging
  • Difficulty getting their thoughts on paper

The ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes. Visual Perception involves how the visual system takes in information, organizes it and uses it to complete a task.

Children with difficulties in processing information may present with:

  • Problems with reading, spelling and handwriting
  • Copying from the smart board
  • Visual attention to a task
  • Difficulty remembering sight words
  • Difficulty copying accurately from smart board
  • Reversals of letters and numbers
  • Poor eye-hand co-ordination
  • Difficulty finding things in a busy backgrounds eg in the bedroom.

What you can do independently.

Children with poor self care skills may have difficulty with the following tasks:

  • Using cutlery in a coordinated manner
  • Doing up buttons, zippers and other fasteners
  • Getting dressed and learning to tie shoelaces
  • Getting ready for school
  • Difficulties with toilet training
  • Poor sleeping patterns
  • Sensitivities to bathing, grooming and oral hygiene

Sensory processing is a term that refers to the way the nervous system receives sensory messages and turns them into responses. We receive and perceive sensory input through sights, sounds, touch, tastes, smell and movement. Sensory processing signals that don’t get organised into appropriate responses can hinder child’s daily routines and activities are disrupted as a result.

Sensory Processing Disorder can lead to devastating consequences in daily skills, social relationships, behavioural responses, self-esteem and learning. Children with sensory processing disorders may demonstrate difficulties processing information through any of the sensory systems.

In broad terms some of the difficulties a child may demonstrate:

  • Heightened response to touch, movement and sound
  • Aggressive or impulsive behaviour when overwhelmed by sensory stimulation
  • Upset by transitions and unexpected changes
  • Shows no reaction when physically hurt
  • Likes crashing, bashing, bumping, jumping and rough housing
  • Often licks, sucks or chews on non-food items such as pencil, hair and clothes
  • Is clumsy, awkward and/or accident prone
  • Has difficulty with personal organisation
  • Poor attention and emotional regulation.
  • Being a picky eater
  • Poor sleep patterns

Sensory Integration

“ The brain and nervous system receive input from body parts as well as from the outside world ”