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Cleveland OT Talk: “Why Would My Child Need Occupational Therapy?”

When a child is referred for Cleveland OT (occupational therapy) services, parents are sometimes a bit bewildered.

“Why would a child need to learn an occupation?”

With other types of pediatric therapy, the name sort of says it all, right?

  • Speech-language therapy Teaching children how to communicate, understand language, articulate, etc.
  • Physical therapy Helping children overcome some type of physical condition, whether orthopedic, neurological, developmental, congenital or musculoskeletal.
  • Behavior therapy (ABA) Assisting kids with conditions like autism spectrum disorder and Down syndrome to learn how to navigate socially significant behaviors.

Occupational therapy is a bit trickier to explain because it’s such a broad discipline. Cleveland OT services at Therapy & Wellness Connection helps children with various needs improve their physical, sensory, cognitive and motor skills, all while boosting their self esteem and pride in accomplishments.

Your child might be referred to a Cleveland OT if…

Cleveland OT supports a child in their family when they are:

  • Struggling with day-to-day activities at home, daycare, school or elsewhere in the community;
  • Wrestling with challenges that most typically-developing kids their age do not (transitioning from one activity to the next, fine motor skills/writing, playing/relating socially to peers and adults, over-under sensitive to certain stimuli);
  • Diagnosed with a developmental delay or condition like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), spina bifida, Down syndrome or other conditions associated with a high probability of such delays.

An increasing number of children have been referred to occupational therapy in schools and beyond. The New York Times reported a few years ago that the number of students receiving OT spiked between 20 and 30 percent in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

The primary reason for this is the rise in cases of autism spectrum disorder (now 1 in every 59 kids – 1 in 37 for boys and 1 in 151 for girls). This, combined with push in schools to integrate children with special needs as early as possible has many Northeast Ohio schools pushing for occupational therapy services sooner than ever.

In fact, any time a child is showing indicators of a developmental delay, occupational therapists are among the first called in for early intervention services, bearing in mind that the first three years of a child’s life are so critical to long-term development and success.

How Can a Cleveland OT Help My Child?

The assistance provided by an occupational therapist will depend on the challenges facing that individual child or their family.

Some examples include:

Gross Motor Skills Assistance. An OT can help a child learn to do things like improve balance, coordinate both sides of their body, understand concepts like left/right, etc. Through various exercises, they can help children build core strength, improve muscle tone and reduce muscle tension.

Fine Motor Skills Development. OTs work with children to help them accomplish tasks like hold and manipulate things like puzzles, toys, silverware, zippers, pencils and scissors. They work to help children get dressed, brush their teeth and learn how to write.

“Catching Up” for those with Developmental Delays. If a child is missing certain milestones – physical, social, cognitive and emotional – a Cleveland OT can help children learn how to navigate confusing social cues, play in a way that’s age-appropriate or learn coping strategies to navigate abrupt changes in plans or activities.

Visual Processing. Children who have trouble interpreting visual information may need help from an OT to copy notes on a board, recognize left-to-right, maintain eye contact or even just recognize the letters they’re seeing.

Oral Motor Skills. An occupational therapist can help a child better control the muscle movements in their oral/facial area. This might be necessary to help control excessive drool, chew food properly, use a cup or cope with extremely picky eating.

Sensory Processing. We all glean information from our senses, but children can be hypo- or hyper-sensitive to certain stimuli. For example, a child who is under-responsive to sensations may have a high pain tolerance and require help recognizing when they are hurt and need to ask for help. Some children may need help understanding how to calm themselves when they get emotionally upset.

Social Skills. Children with developmental delays and disabilities may feel lost when navigating relationships. It’s not that they are unable to bond (they are!) but they need help understanding what certain non-verbal cues mean and require help to know how to communicate their own needs and boundaries.

Our Cleveland occupational therapists work with children at a pace that is best molded to their abilities and tailored to fit their unique needs. If you still have questions about the ways in which occupational therapy can help your child, please don’t hesitate to ask.

Therapy & Wellness Connection – your connection to a life without limitations – provides occupational therapy to children in Cleveland, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, Akron and surrounding communities. We also offer summer camp, day programs, education services, vocational counseling and more. Call us at (330) 748-4807 or send us an email

Additional Resources:

Sharp Rise in Occupational Therapy Cases at New York’s Schools, Feb. 17, 2015, By Elizabeth A. Harris, The New York Times

More Blog Entries:

Cleveland Occupational Therapists: Sports Team Sensory Rooms are a Homerun for Inclusion!, May 8, 2019, Cleveland OT Blog