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How an occupational therapist could identify problem areas with your child’s functioning

You might have noticed that your child is finding it challenging to master some of the everyday tasks expected at their age. Maybe they are displaying challenges in motor tasks — unable to coordinate their movements as well as other children. Or maybe your child has challenges emotionally, or socially, or with managing their energy levels. It might be that you cannot even pinpoint how your child is struggling, but simply feel something is not right.

Which health professional could you see to assist your child? Several types of practitioners could help, including an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy (OT) is about helping individuals to function in the activities they need and want to engage in (from self-care to work/school, hobbies, social participation etc.).

Occupational therapy for kids can assist children with many presentations such as: physical or intellectual disability, autism, ADHD, difficulty with self-regulation, and sensory processing difficulties. Read on to learn about some of the ways occupational therapists can assist in identifying how your child needs help.

Occupational therapists can have a role in formal diagnosis

Occupational therapists work to gather information and analyse how an individual participates in the activities they engage in across their day . With certain conditions such as autism, occupational therapists may be a member of a team of professionals who will work towards a formal diagnostic label. However, your child does not have to have a formal diagnosis to work with an occupational therapist. Occupational therapists can assist with individuals who have sub-clinical symptoms (issues that are enough to cause functioning difficulty but that may not meet the threshold for a diagnosis).

Occupational therapists can name and identify issues in physical, cognitive, emotional or social functioning

Occupational therapists have training that helps them identify functional challenges across areas. For example, if your child has autism and ADHD they may experience emotional and social difficulties, as well as more physical presentations such as difficulty regulating their energy and sensory processing difficulties. An occupational therapist can assist in a range of skill areas and understand how difficulties in these skill areas interact in various situations. Occupational therapists use a range of tools to gather information including formal assessment of skills, questionnaires, clinical interviews, and observations of participation in daily activities.

Occupational therapists can pinpoint environmental issues

An individual’s capacity to function depends not just on their internal resources, but also on the environment they exist within. Occupational therapists can help assess for environmental barriers and causes of functioning issues, and how to work through these factors. Occupational therapists can provide tailored advice on how to create an environment that best supports your child. Advice on how your child can adapt to environments may also be given. For example, an occupational therapist might help your child develop skills to cope with a busy classroom environment.

Sometimes occupational therapists may even conduct school visits to observe the environment and give recommendations on how your child could best be supported.

Occupational therapists can conduct functional analyses

In working with your child, occupational therapists may explore the environment and causes of functioning difficulties. By getting to know your child and family, occupational therapists will understand the presenting problems and goals, and work with your child’s strengths to help them improve their quality of life.

If necessary, occupational therapists may work with schools, other allied health specialists, and doctors to explore why your child is struggling and create a tailored plan of support.

Occupational therapists can identify parenting difficulties and teach skills

Parenting is certainly not an easy job. It can be difficult to know how to best parent a child, especially when the young person has developmental or behavioural difficulties. Occupational therapists who work with children understand child development and parenting so can give general advice, as well as help you adapt your parenting style to your child’s own unique strengths and difficulties.

Parenting a child with a developmental disorder can require a slightly different approach to raising a neurotypical child, and occupational therapists can help you build the ability to warmly and effectively relate to your child.

Occupational therapists can utilise and build on an NDIS framework to help your child

When working with your child, an occupational therapist may work collaboratively with you to identify and/or create clear, achievable goals for therapy. Clients under NDIS can expect occupational therapists to use the NDIS plan as well as interview information and possibly teacher report to gain an understanding of the child. Occupational therapists may also liaise with other members of your young person’s support team to help achieve a clear grasp of all functional issues, and also to delineate what occupational therapy is targeting compared to any other professionals involved.

Occupational therapists can build a strong working relationship with your child

Occupational therapists work to build rapport with their clients. By taking the time to connect with your child, occupational therapists can understand your child’s lifestyle and the presenting problems more fully. By connecting with your child, an occupational therapist can more fully engage them in therapeutic activities. Occupational therapists who work with children know how to make content engaging, meaningful and age-appropriate, meaning your child may enjoy and even look forward to attending sessions.


In summary, occupational therapists can help children with a wide range of presenting issues, including developmental disorders, learning difficulties, physical or intellectual impairments, and sensory processing challenges. Occupational therapists can also assist in the diagnosis process for some conditions. Occupational therapists are trained to identify and work through issues in functioning and participation in everyday tasks. An occupational therapist working with your child will consider cognitive, emotional, social and physical functioning, and may use a number of avenues to gather this information. If you believe your child would benefit from seeing an occupational therapist, please contact us on 3857 0074 to book in.

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