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Occupational Therapists Help Children Succeed at Every Age

April 19, 2019

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, affecting their ability to participate in daily occupations.

Occupational therapists assist with skill development and rehabilitation by using sensory based and neurodevelopmental techniques. They provide appropriate exercises, develop adaptive strategies and collaborate with parents and other health professionals to create home and hospital-based activity programs.

Which types of milestones should youth be meeting at each new life chapter and how can occupational therapy help with daily occupational skills?


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.

Words of gratitude during Occupational Therapy Month


Maribeth, an occupational therapist at Lurie Children's. 

“As we celebrate OT Month, I wanted to take a moment to thank Maribeth Gorman Jankowski, OTR/L. My son has been seeing Maribeth for almost eight years!  Initially, his goals were “simple”: use the left side of his body, cross midline, develop a pincher grasp. While most children learn these skills naturally as infants, he worked incredibly hard to master them with Maribeth’s help. As he’s grown, she’s helped him deal with sensory input, improve his fine motor skills and executive functioning. Most recently, she’s helped him master tying his shoes and learn to write (more) legibly.

“As I think back on all of the progress my son has made, Maribeth has been instrumental in every part of it. Maribeth noticed he needed speech therapy. Maribeth encouraged us to schedule an appointment in neurology when we weren’t seeing much progress, despite our best efforts. Maribeth recommended EI as a way to augment our Lurie services without more commuting. Maribeth very gently suggested developmental testing to help with preschool planning. Maribeth suggested neuropsych testing when we needed additional assistance with school planning. Maribeth has coordinated with his school OT’s and offered valuable advice for IEP meetings.

“Maribeth is my son’s OT, but she is so much more to my family. Words cannot express my gratitude.”

Learn More About Lurie Children's Occupational Therapy Program

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