What Is Occupational Therapy? Occupational therapy (OT) is a branch of health care that helps people of all ages who have physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. OT can help them regain independence in all areas of their lives. Occupational therapists help with barriers that affect a person's emotional, social, and physical needs. To do this, they use everyday activities, exercises, and other therapies. OT helps kids play, improves their school performance, and aids their daily activities. It also boosts their self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. With OT, kids can: Develop fine motor skills so they can grasp and release toys and develop good handwriting or computer skills. Improve eye–hand coordination so they can play and do needed school skills such as bat a ball and copy from a blackboard. Master basic life skills such as bathing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, and self-feeding. Learn positive behaviors and social skills by practicing how they manage frustration and anger. Get special equipment to help build their independence. These include wheelchairs, splints, bathing equipment, dressing devices, and communication aids. Who Might Need Occupational Therapy? OT can help kids and teens who have: birth injuries or birth defects sensory processing disorders traumatic injuries to the brain or spinal cord learning problems autism juvenile rheumatoid arthritis mental health or behavioral problems broken bones or other orthopedic injuries developmental delays post-surgical conditions burns spina bifida traumatic amputations cancer severe hand injuries multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, and other chronic illnesses How Do Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Differ? Physical therapy and occupational therapy both help improve kids' quality of life, but there are differences. Physical therapy (PT) helps with: pain strength joint range of motion endurance gross motor skills (large-muscle movements made with the arms, legs, feet, or entire body) Occupational therapy helps with: fine motor skills (small-muscle movements made with the hands, fingers, and toes, such as grasping) visual-perceptual skills cognitive (thinking) skills sensory-processing problems Who Does Occupational Therapy? The two professional levels of occupational practice are: Occupational therapist (OT): An OT has a 4-year bachelor's degree in a related field (such as biology, psychology, or health science) and a master's degree from an accredited occupational therapy program. Occupational therapist assistant (OTA): An OTA has an associate's degree from an accredited OTA program. They can carry out treatment plans developed by an OT but can't do patient evaluations. OTs and OTAs must do supervised fieldwork programs and pass a national certification exam. A license to practice is mandatory in most states, as are continuing education classes. Where Do OTs Work? Occupational therapists work in many different settings, including hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, private practices. and children's clinics. How Can We Find an Occupational Therapist? If you think occupational therapy could help your child, you can: Ask your doctor to refer you to a specialist. Talk to the school nurse or guidance counselor. They might be able to recommend someone based on your child's academic or social needs. Contact a nearby hospital or rehabilitation center for referrals. Visit The American Occupational Therapy Association website to find your state's occupational therapy association. Back to Articles Related Articles Going to an Occupational Therapist Occupational therapy helps children overcome obstacles to be as independent as possible. Learn more about OT. Read More Physical Therapy Physical therapy helps people get back to full strength and movement - and manage pain - in key parts of the body after an illness or injury. Read More Who's Who in the Hospital Parents are likely to be stressed when a child is hospitalized, and questions about the people providing medical care and what roles they play can add to the confusion. Our guide can help. Read More Wheelchairs Wheelchairs are a way for some people to be independent, despite illnesses or injuries. Find out more in this article for kids. Read More Speech-Language Therapy Working with a certified speech-language pathologist can help a child with speech or language difficulties. Read More Managing Home Health Care When kids need intensive health care after they're discharged from the hospital, it's important that family and caregivers learn about the devices, equipment, and support they'll need. Read More Physical Therapy Doctors often recommend physical therapy for kids who have been injured or have movement problems from an illness, disease, or disability. Learn more about PT. Read More Caring for a Seriously Ill Child Taking care of a chronically ill child is one of the most draining and difficult tasks a parent can face. But support groups, social workers, and family friends often can help. Read More Word! Occupational Therapist An occupational therapist can help kids who have trouble doing everyday things, like writing, eating, or getting dressed. Read More Word! Occupational Therapy Do you know what your occupation is? Read More Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2021 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.