Why Your Child May Need Occupational Therapy

At every stage of life, infants, toddlers, children and adolescents are expected to meet individualized and specific milestones. However, an injury or learning disability can affect a person’s occupational performance, impacting their ability to participate in daily occupations. Occupational therapy is a type of therapy that helps people of all ages develop, improve and maintain the skills they need for daily living. Occupational therapists use a variety of methods, including play, activities of daily living, and adaptive equipment, to help people achieve their goals.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy intervention uses everyday life activities (occupations) to promote health, well-being and your ability to participate in the important activities in your life. Everyone has occupations, including children, who are the important skills of self-care, social engagement, and play. Occupational therapy breaks down tasks to figure out skills that may be difficult for a child and when needed, they assist with modifications and rehabilitation to foster greater participation.  Occupational therapists provide appropriate exercises, develop adaptive strategies and collaborate with parents and other health professionals to create home and hospital-based activity programs to improve daily living

What are the key differences between occupational therapy and physical therapy?

An occupational therapist will evaluate your child with input from parents and caregivers and will create individualized goals that allow you to resume or pursue the child’s preferred and valued occupations. After you develop goals with your occupational therapist, you will work together on exercises and strategies to help improve their ability to perform daily activities and reach their goals. 

Physical therapists are movement experts who improve the quality of life through exercise, hands-on care and patient education. Physical therapists examine each person and develop a treatment plan to improve their ability to move, reduce or manage pain, improve or restore function and prevent disability. Physical therapists typically focus on improving gross motor skills, which are those that need full body movement and involve big muscles of the body to perform daily functions. Pediatric physical therapists will often address a child's physical mobility to help them safely navigate their environment and participate in activities of daily living.  

Both occupational and physical therapy address crucial skills that facilitate the development of children and help them participate as independently as possible in their daily lives.  Some children require both OT and PT intervention. At Lurie Children’s, you can count on this collaborative approach between therapists and any other member of your family’s multi-specialty team. 

Signs Your Child Needs Occupational Therapy


Infants have multiple opportunities during the day to achieve a relaxed and alert state as they communicate with caregivers and the environment. Their main “occupation” is to stay calm and interactive as they begin to reach for toys, gain awareness of their body parts and uphold a general curiosity for the world. If infants are fussy or sleepy all the time, they miss out on these necessary periods of skill development. Occupational therapy can be used to help infants become more attentive and vibrant.


Toddlers are often on an explorative mission — they are mobile and begin to learn the value of independence. During this stage, they should experience enhanced awareness and independence. Toddlers must learn how to use both hands effectively, play and feed themselves and be comfortable around other children. If toddlers have not developed upper extremity skills, struggle with sensory experiences or show a lack of independence, occupational therapists can provide care.  


During childhood, kids should be able to play independently and in groups. They are expected to be autonomous in self-care and feel comfortable using tools, such as scissors, feeding utensils and writing implements. Being able to adapt to schedule changes and adjust to motor and sensorial demands are central for development. When they cannot adequately perform these skills, occupational therapy is an advantageous outlet. 


Adolescence often brings a heightened sense of responsibility at home and school. Societal interaction and personal well-being are essential for teens as they navigate the highs and lows of life. Common accomplishments they should acquire include: being able to organize work, participate in recreational activities and develop complex social and emotional skills. An adolescent who has an injury or medical condition can find these tasks challenging, requiring intervention from occupational therapists.

In collaboration with rehabilitative peers in audiology, orthotics and prosthetics, physical therapy and speech and language pathology, in addition to other clinical teams, our occupational therapists strive to help youth, young and old, reach their greatest potential.

Learn More About Lurie Children's Occupational Therapy Program

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