Occupational Therapy: Everything you need to know – A Definitive Guide

Occupational Therapy: Everything you need to know – A Definitive Guide

Reviewed By

Ms.Sangeetha A Varghese, BOT
Occupational Therapist

Are you having trouble performing a specific task due to recent injury? Or are you receiving complaints that your son is inattentive and never sits still in class? Has your Dad’s last fall made it difficult for him to do daily chores all by himself?  Or is your daughter very fussy about brushing her teeth or combing her hair? Fortunately, an occupational therapist can help and guide you with all the above concerns and more! But what is occupational therapy?

To know further, we will plunge into the specifics of occupational therapy including:

  • Occupational Therapy – What? When? Why? How?
  • Sensory integration therapy & Benefits
  • Autism treatment – How occupational therapy plays a vital role?
  • Occupational therapy Vs Physiotherapy and Speech therapy

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy(OT) is the branch of medical science that uses ‘whole-person’ approach to treat a child or adult with the objective of making them functional and independent in all walks of life.

  • Occupational therapy focuses on improving patient’s cognitive, physical, emotional and social skills.
  • Helps children struggling with self-regulation and sensory issues.
  • Is highly beneficial for patients struggling with everyday fine motor and gross motor tasks from using a toothbrush to organising a table to more complex daily tasks like writing, buttoning, cooking, cleaningetc.
  • Makes therapeutic use of everyday activities and exercises.
  • Facilitates rehabilitation using assistive devices to help maintain/develop skills needed for independent living.

Suggested Reading: Is Occupational Therapy Different From Physical Therapy?

Who Needs Occupational Therapy?

Anyone who is struggling to perform his/her daily activities can benefit from occupational therapy. Conditions that occupational therapy can help include,

  • Birth injuries or birth defects
  • Developmental delay
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Learning difficulties
  • Mental health or behavioural issues
  • Traumatic injuries to brain or spinal cord or orthopaedic injuries
  • Down’s Syndrome
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • Visual Impairment

Conditions that benefit from occupational therapy in adults include, among others,

  •     Multiple sclerosis
  •     Parkinson ’s disease
  •     Alzheimer’s disease

Who is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists are empathetic and dedicated professionals who work with patients to make them participate fully in activities they value the most despite medical conditions, disabilities, injuries or illnesses.

  • Occupational therapist is a graduate trained in occupational therapy.
  • One who is licensed and certified to practice occupational therapy.
  • Some occupational therapists do their masters in specific areas such as paediatrics, orthopaedics, neurology, mental health, geriatrics, etc. Some do additional certifications in certain areas or assessments or treatment to get a broader view on the perspective.
  • Occupational therapists work in hospitals, rehab centres, outpatient clinics, schools, private practice centres, child development centres.

What Does an OT Do?

Occupational therapists help patients lead a meaningful and purposeful life. They serve people of all age groups from premature babies to seniors.  An occupational therapist, 

  • Observes activities and assesses patient’s needs.
  • Develops treatment plan that is practical and realistic to make the tasks less painful and easier for the patient.
  • Addresses sensory issues and behaviour problems.
  • Builds eye-hand coordination and works on motor skills to help grasp a pencil to write.
  • Incorporates day-to-day activities in treatment, uses them therapeutically to help develop/restore function.
  • In adults, modifies the occupation or environment to help a patient perform the required task.
  • Prescribes and trains patients on using assistive devices. Provides training to caregivers.
  • Evaluates and documents progress. 

Occupational therapists work individually and also in coordination with patient’s family members and other healthcare professionals involved with the patient like physiotherapist, speech therapist, clinical psychologist, doctors and social workers.

Suggested Reading: Occupational Therapists Responsibilities and Duties

Where is occupational therapy most needed?

  • Children with autism – Occupational therapy can help in normalising their sensory issues, improve fine motor and gross motor skills, self-regulation, and social skills.
  • A child or teenager with ADHD – Occupational therapy can help in improving attention, impulse control, fine motor skills, memory, time management, planning and social skills.
  • Children with Down Syndrome or other Syndromes – Occupational therapy can facilitate self-care skills and self-regulation skills, improve fine motor and gross motor skills and social skills.
  • Children with Cerebral Palsy – OT can help regulate muscle tone and muscle stiffness, improve hand dexterity, visual motor skills, balance and coordination, upper body strength and stability. OT also helps improve self-care skills to make them independent.
  • A child or an adult with anxiety or depression – OT can help improve coping skills and develop healthier habits to help participate fully at school, play, work or in society.
  • An adult recovering from accident or stroke – OT can improve strength, range of motion and help perform everyday activities by using adaptive devices.

What is the main purpose of occupational therapy?

Primary focus is on facilitating functional independence in self-care skills and everyday activities. OT also helps

  • Develop, improve and maintain a child/adult’s ability to engage in an activity they want or need to do.
  • Adapt to changes in environment, maintain health and prevent disability.
  • Change the environment to help the patient perform required tasks.
  • Promote social and emotional well-being and independence.

What are different types of occupational therapy?

  • Paediatric occupational therapy
  • Geriatric occupational therapy
  • Occupational therapy for neuro-rehabilitation
  • Occupational therapy for mental health
  • Occupational therapy in Orthopaedics

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

Occupational therapists work in different settings that include hospitals, rehabilitation centres, child development centres, mental health centres, private clinics and paediatrics clinics.

Why Occupational Therapy for Children?

A child’s primary occupation is to play. They learn by playing and exploring. But some children may have trouble playing or learning due to medical condition, disability, injury or some specific difficulties or needs. Occupational therapy can help develop or improve the deficit skills in these children and increase their confidence, self-esteem and independence.

In children, occupational therapy

  • Helps develop self-care including self-feeding habits, toileting, dressing etc.
  • Improves fine motor skills and ability to manipulate small objects.
  • Improves gross motor skills.
  • Improves eye-hand coordination for better performance at school and play.
  • Enhances visual motor perception.
  • Helps improve balance and coordination.
  • Helps in improving proximal stability and core strengthening.
  • Improves handwriting.
  • Helps improve positive behaviour and social skills by controlling anger, anxiety and outbursts.
  • Recommends special aids or equipments like wheelchair, splints, and communication aids for functional independence.
  • Improves social interaction.

Suggested Reading: Occupational Therapy Activities for Kids

Occupational therapy for Autism

Autism spectrum disorder hampers the skills, interests and activities of an individual and limits their innate capability to bond with others.

In autism treatment, occupational therapy plays a unique role and is most often the primary mode of intervention. It helps overcome limitations and builds strength in both children and adults.

How Occupational therapy helps children with Autism

Children with autism often struggle with issues related to sensory processing that can lead to challenging behaviours. An occupational therapist can help the child get control of the information onslaught, to break it down and respond appropriately at home, school and beyond.

Self-care and self-regulation are two prime areas in autism treatment where occupational therapy plays a pivotal role. OT also,

  • Helps with play skills, sensory processing skills and social skills.
  • Facilitates daily activity skills like learning to button a shirt, combing the hair or holding a fork in hand appropriately.
  • Helps the child to express feelings in more appropriate ways and engage in play with siblings and peers.

Occupational Therapy Personalised Treatment Plan for Autism

Individualised treatment is the key in autism. Occupational therapists develop individualised goals that are very personal depending on each child’s functional levels and needs.

Strategically designed activities are used to help the child in personal hygiene, academics, life skills and social skills. These include,

  • Interactive play modules to enhance communication and social skills
  • Activities to improve coordination and promote awareness of the body
  • Activities to improve motor skills for balance and coordination
  • Activities to enhance fine motor skills for manipulation of small objects
  • Self-regulation activities
  • Activities that help train the child to accept and adapt to transitions
  • Self-care activities like grooming, brushing, toileting, feeding etc.
  • Activities to improve visual skills for better reading and writing
  • Improve sitting tolerance and posture
  • Activities to improve perceptual skills like telling the differences in colours, shapes, sizes etc.

What is Sensory Integration Therapy and why is it important?

Sensory integration therapy is a fun & play based intervention which helps in dealing with sensory problems.  Sensory integration therapy is performed by specially trained occupational therapists.

Sensory integration therapy,

  • Improves self-regulation. Kids with sensory issues are exposed to sensory stimulation in a structured and repetitive way to help regulate their emotions.
  • Focuses on improving a child’s sensory processing ways to perceive various senses appropriately.
  • Helps improve focus during an activity.
  • Involves prescribing children with sensory diet to help them cope with challenges.
  • Includes various activities such as swinging on different types of swings, playing in a ball pit, bouncing and rolling on a large ball, riding a scooter board, running through obstacle courses, sitting in a bin of dry rice or other textures to improve sensory processing.
  • Enhances motor planning ability.

Suggested Reading: Sensory Integration Therapy 

How OT and Speech therapy are connected?

Occupational therapy helps build the foundational skills required for speech therapy. OT works on improving sensory integration, regulation, attention, vision and motor skills, all of which can directly influence speech and language development.

  • OT works on postural stability that can help improve swallowing and speech production.
  • Sensory integration is critical for oral-motor skills, feeding and auditory processing.
  • Improves self-regulation skills that enhance ability to be aware and be present for speech sessions and engage in social situations appropriately.
  • Improves fine motor skills and writing skills which are essential for written language.

Difference Between Occupational Therapy & Physiotherapy

Although both types of therapies help children and adults improve their quality of life, they are different in their approach and focus. Wherever required they work together complementing each other.


Occupational Therapy



A holistic program treating the person as a whole

Focuses on the area of impairment


Focuses on improving the quality and ability of a patient to do everyday functional activities independently

Aims at enhancing the patient’s quality and ability to perform specific movements of their body


Takes care of the functional aspect of movement gained

Improvement in the quality of movement is focused more


Focus is more on fine motor skills involving movements of the small muscles of the body

Works more on gross motor skills which involve large muscles of the body

Many factors can influence a child or adult’s ability to perform daily tasks in life and it is essential to have a comprehensive approach wherever required.


Suggested Reading: Is Occupational Therapy Different From Physical Therapy?


What is the Assessment Process of occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy assessment is a detailed evaluation of an individual’s activities of daily living(ADL) with a view to understand and design therapeutic activities for functional independence.

  • Observes the patient during functional tasks and assesses his/her strengths and deficit areas which need attention and treatment.
  •  Gains an understanding of the physical, emotional and cognitive impediments in performing the desired activity.
  • Uses standardized and non-standardized assessment tools, clinical observations and parent/caregiver interviews for a comprehensive assessment.
  • Develops an individualized treatment plan and uses therapeutic activities, exercises and devices to help the patient reach specific goals and needs.
  • Documents the assessment and treatment plan.

In children, before recommending therapy, OT takes into consideration a child’s

  • Stamina and attention span.
  • Skills demonstrated during playing.
  • Personal space demanded.
  • Alacrity with which new activities are embraced.
  • Specific response to tactile and other stimuli.
  • Aggressiveness and other behavioural traits.
  • Interaction with others.

In Occupational Therapy, Life is Full of Positives and Possibilities, whatever the medical diagnosis may be…

Occupational therapy sees the person as a whole and looks at all the potential and possibilities in the patient and his/her environment to help lead a purposeful life.

Hope this blog has helped get a brief insight into occupational therapy and its purpose. Do not hesitate to reach out to us if you have any queries or need professional help for you or someone you love.

“Medicine adds days to lives, occupational therapy adds life to days.”

Occupational Therapy Centre in Kerala

Prayatna is one of the leading occupational therapy centre in Kochi. For over 18 years, our occupational therapists listen to your concerns, assess each child’s needs, and create personalized plans to help them reach their full potential and build a bright future.

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