Occupational therapy practitioners work with children, youth, and their families to promote active participation in activities or occupations that are meaningful to them. Occupation refers to activities that may support the health, well-being, and development of an individual (AOTA, 2008). For children and youth, occupations are activities that enable them to learn and develop life skills (e.g., school activities), be creative and/or derive enjoyment (e.g., play), and thrive (e.g., self-care and care for others) as both a means and an end. Occupational therapy practitioners work with children of all ages (birth through young adulthood) and abilities. Recommended interventions are based on a thorough understanding of typical development and the impact of disability, illness, and impairment on the individual child’s development, play, learning, and overall occupational performance.
Occupational therapy practitioners provide services by collaborating with other professionals to identify and meet needs of children experiencing delays or challenges in development; identifying and modifying or overcoming barriers that interfere with, restrict, or inhibit a child’s functional performance; teaching and modeling skills and strategies to children and their families to extend therapeutic intervention; and adapting activities, materials, and environmental conditions so children can participate under different conditions and in various environments.

The therapists employ a variety of treatment approaches, such as:

Sensory Integration: Sensory integration is the neurological process to capture and organize sensation from one’s own body and the environment, thus making it possible to use the body effectively within the environment. The ongoing relationship between behaviour and brain functioning is called sensory integration. Sensory integration provides a crucial foundation for later, more complex learning and behaviour. Some children need sensory integration therapy because they have a dysfunctional sensory integration system, where one or more of the senses overreact or under react to environmental stimuli. Standard therapy usually focuses on the following areas: (i) tactile (sense of touch), (ii) vestibular (sense of movement), and (iii) proprioceptive (sense of body position). The typical goal of sensory integration therapy is to help the child re-organize or re-process sensory information in order to have a more accurate response to external stimuli.

Neurodevelopment Treatment (NDT): is a treatment approach which was developed to treat underlying neuromotor deficits as well as posture and movement disorders. Techniques include inhibition of atypical movement patterns and facilitation of more typical movement patterns to encourage increased functional skill development. Neurodevelopmental treatment facilitates movement through space with assistance of a therapist using handling techniques, which gently lead and guide as well as inhibit with gentle touch. Emphasis of treatment is to promote function with improved alignment and tonal normalization along with weight shifting and postural activation in both movement through space as well as in postural holding activities. Neurodevelopmental intervention constantly assesses the child, analyzing the response and changing the handling to modify the response from the child. As the therapist receives and interprets information about the child, the therapist then transmits sensory motor input back through the use of hands and movement, which becomes a graceful fluid interchange between the child and therapist, leading to more independent, functional movement.

Therapeutic Listening Program: Listening Therapy is a structured program of listening to specially designed music that is individually selected for each client. This technique has been adapted from the works of Guy Berard, Alfred Tomatis, Steven Porges, and Ingo Steinbach. It has been integrated into a sensory processing model by Sheila Frick, OTR. The music stimulates the polyvagal (gr. ‘polus’, “‘many’” + ‘vagal’, “‘Vagus Nerve’) system which regulates behavioural reactivity through three neural circuits. Basically a child is less able hear/understand the human voice when he/she is over aroused. Specially designed and selected music are used to normalize over arousal, enhance spatial perception and directionality of sound, create a specific emotional experience, enhance learning and attention, stimulate facial expression and vocalization, improve eye contact and exercise the vestibular/cochlear system, the attending and organizing mechanisms of the middle ear, as well as their interconnections throughout the central nervous system and autonomic nervous system.

Life skill training: Occupational therapy practitioners have training in mental health and are well-suited to address children’s emotional and behavioural needs as they relate to everyday activities and social interaction. For example, occupational therapy practitioners help children develop the ability to cope with challenges, calm down when frustrated, defuse anger, and manage impulses in order to succeed at individual tasks and collaborative interactions at home, at school, and in the community. As children grow older, skills for success in independent living become essential. Occupational therapy practitioners address self-determination and self-advocacy skills, along with transition from school into adult roles.