Occupational Therapy For Children: When Is It Really Necessary?

In recent years, there has been a sharp increase in the number of occupational therapies prescribed for children, often at the request of parents. What exactly is occupational therapy? When does my child need occupational therapy? What can occupational therapy do for children with developmental disabilities?

We answer all the important questions.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

The term ergotherapy contains the ancient Greek word érgon, which means ‘work’ or ‘labor’, in German. Ergotherapy is thus literally translated as ‘therapy through action and work’. Occupational therapy is used whenever people are limited in their ability to act.

These people have developmental disorders or deficits caused by injury. Occupational therapy is intended to enable these people to live as independently as possible (again).

Occupational therapy measures are used, for example, to train motor skills, the ability to concentrate or social behavior. In occupational therapy for children, play therapy approaches dominate. Occupational therapy for children is also called occupational therapy in pediatrics.

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What Is The Goal Of Occupational Therapy In Childhood?

Occupational therapy helps children with physical and mental deficits to improve their motor skills, perception, coordination, communication, independence and social behavior in a fun way.

Through occupational therapy treatment, the child should (re)gain the ability to act. The child should become as independent as possible and as independent as possible from aids and helpers in everyday life.

Another aim of occupational therapy is to prevent developmental delays and the associated consequential damage.

Depending on the child’s age and the nature of the problem, concrete treatment goals are often set together with the child and his or her parents and.

Determining specific treatment goals (depending on age) together with the child and other caregivers.

In What Cases Can Occupational Therapy Be Considered For Your Child?

The number of occupational therapies prescribed by doctors for children has increased greatly in recent years. Occupational therapy can be useful if your child’s physical, mental and emotional development is delayed or if your child’s motor skills, perception or social behavior are not developing in line with his or her age.

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Such problems can be detected in the U examinationsat the pediatrician. However, some experts complain that occupational therapy measures are often prescribed even for minor movement and behavioral problems. In most cases, the parents are the driving force for treatment.

Occupational therapy is usually prescribed when there are clear deviations from the norm. This is the case when a child reads, writes or paints conspicuously worse than other children of the same age or when a child has motor problems in everyday life, for example when tying shoes.

Noticeable problems in sensory perception are also a reason for prescribing occupational therapy.

Doctors Often Prescribe Occupational Therapy In The Following Cases

  • Developmental disorders and delays (e.g., after premature birth).
  • Visual or hearing disorders.
  • Behavioral abnormalities: for example, aggressiveness, hypersensitivity.
  • Disturbance of body or environment perception.
  • Excessive or absent urge to move.
  • Concentration deficits with and without hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD).
  • Hardly integrated in groups, outsider role.
  • Abnormalities in fine motor skills or gross motor skills.
  • Problems in social behavior and communication skills.
  • Increased or low sensation of pain.
  • Learning disabilities: for example, reading difficulties (dyscalculia) or dyscalculia (dyslexia).
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Bedwetting (enuresis).
  • Balance problems, coordination problems.
  • Early childhood brain damage.
  • Strongly developed or low self-esteem.
  • Physical or mental disabilities.

Occupational therapy can make a significant contribution to limiting the above-mentioned problems and impairments, enabling the affected child to act better and to be more independent in everyday life.

Motor disorders in particular have played a major role in the sharp increase in the number of occupational therapy treatments in children in recent years. It can be assumed that the cause is that children move less than in the past and thus have fewer physical experiences.

As a result of a lack of movement, children get to know their bodies later and are thus unable to assess them properly.

What Are The Therapeutic Contents Of Occupational Therapy For Children?

The focus of occupational therapy in children is on play-based treatment concepts that can be used to train motor skills, as well as to improve behavior, sensory skills and independence.

Classic occupational therapy concepts include:

  • Oral and feeding therapy.
  • Concentration training.
  • Sensory integration therapy.
  • Attention training.
  • Learning therapy.
  • Development of gross and fine motor skills.

One aspect of occupational therapy for children that should not be neglected is consultation. The occupational therapist includes the child’s parents and other caregivers (e.g., kindergarten staff, teachers) in his or her therapy concept.

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With comprehensive counseling, the occupational therapist ensures that all caregivers are informed about the appropriate way to deal with the child. Ideally, the occupational therapist’s therapy concepts for children can be expanded by the caregivers.

How Does Occupational Therapy For Children Work?

During the occupational therapy history (assessment of findings), the occupational therapist performs tasks and standard tests that are usually playful in nature. On this basis, the occupational therapist can assess the child’s development, abilities and problems.

An essential role not the observation of the child in the accomplishment of certain tasks. After a detailed discussion with the parents, the occupational therapist will observe the child playing and solving certain tasks during one or more therapy sessions.

In doing so, the occupational therapist recognizes any deviations from the norm and can draw conclusions about which occupational therapy approach is appropriate.

When choosing the appropriate therapy, the occupational therapist also takes the child’s environment into account. The parents or other caregivers are always integrated into the treatment. The occupational therapist also tells the caregivers how they should react to a particular behavior of the child.

Successes in therapy can occur more quickly if all caregivers follow the guidelines. If everyone pulls together, the young patient can make rapid progress.

Timing And Duration Of Occupational Therapy For Children

If your child shows abnormalities, you should seek advice from an occupational therapist as early as possible, because it may be difficult to compensate for deviations from normal development through later treatment.

The earlier occupational therapy treatment is started, the better the chances of success. Motor disorders in particular can be identified and treated as early as infancy or toddlerhood. However, most occupational therapies are not performed until the child is about 4 years old.

Some disorders (especially motor disorders) can be identified and treated by occupational therapy for children as early as infancy or toddlerhood. However, occupational therapy for children is often only used from the age of 4.

The treatment period of occupational therapy depends, among other things, on how old the child is, what problems he or she has and how severe the problems are. Some therapies are successfully completed after just a few months with one or two occupational therapy sessions a week.

Other occupational therapies, however, can take years. The occupational therapist will be able to tell you after the consultation how long the therapy will take in something.

What Role Do Parents And Other Caregivers Play In The Success Of Therapy?

The child’s caregivers can have a significant influence on the success of the therapy. They should be careful not to put pressure on the child. Instead, patience is called for if therapy successes fail to materialize or progress is made only in small steps.

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Caregivers should follow the therapist’s instructions and not only follow the behavioral training during the therapy session. The child should be repeatedly challenged with simple tasks and games, but should not be overburdened.

If parents and other caregivers provide sufficient exercise and mental stimulation, positive effects can be expected in any case.

For a healthy development of your child, you should also think about the media consumption of your child. In the BLIKK media study of the RFH Cologne it was shown that certain developmental disorders can be promoted by too intensive media use in childhood.

The emotional climate in which a child grows up also has a significant influence on its personal development. Parents can provide a climate that gives the child confidence and support.

Sensory Integration Therapy For Better Body Awareness

Sensory integration therapy is about the neurophysiological treatment of perceptual disorders in children. The therapy was mainly developed by the occupational therapist Jean Ayres (1920 – 1989).

Sensory integration disorder affects children who are unable to properly process environmental stimuli such as sight, hearing, smell as well as the perception of their own body. Sensory integration therapy starts at this point and tries to promote the child’s perception through play.

The child makes specific sensory experiences and learns to interpret them correctly. For example, a child’s sense of balance can be trained and improved through rocking.

A room that offers climbing opportunities, suspended play equipment, mats, trampolines and hammocks are usually used as a playful environment. The aim is to give the young patients a better sense of balance and to strengthen their basic muscular tension.

The goals of this therapy are better hand-eye coordination, better movement coordination, as well as speech and communication improvement and optimized self-awareness. It should also be possible to better perceive the meaning of certain actions….

What your occupational therapist will tell you for sure: A sensory integration disorder is not a sign of low intelligence or giftedness!

How Can You Support Your Child Through Learning Toys?

Children spend a lot of time with their toys every day. They spend much more time at home or on the playground than at the occupational therapist’s office. By choosing the right toys, you can help your child to better develop their skills in all areas.

However, many parents neglect exactly this factor. Often there are televisions or game consoles in children’s rooms, which can lead to a one-sided development of the child. Much better would be building blocks to promote motor development or tricycles and bicycles to promote the sense of balance.

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Occupational therapists therefore advise providing children with the right educational toys at an early age, thus promoting the child’s development as early as possible, through play.

Educational toys give children the best opportunities to gain experience. They learn to grasp shapes and colors through play. With the right building blocks, motor skills are strengthened. Other games are suitable to train imagination and creativity.

Studies have shown that by playing with the right educational toys, children develop better linguistic and motor skills. This can compensate for deficits in learning or in the sense of balance. For older children, this can also improve academic performance.

When you buy toys for your child, always pay attention to the age rating. The toy must be adapted to the developmental stage of your child. A toy that does not give the child a sense of achievement will quickly lead to demotivation and frustration.

If your child is underchallenged, boredom will be the result and he or she will no longer use this toy. For the “success” of a toy, the right portion of challenge and sense of achievement is an essential factor.

Also pay attention to the quality of the toy. Can the toy really develop your child’s skills? Many manufacturers produce educational toys with which children cannot learn anything. The paint, rubber and plastic components of the toys should not contain harmful substances.

Small parts can be swallowed by children. Children can injure themselves on sharp edges. Therefore, always note for which age group the respective toy is approved.

Who Pays For Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is recognized by the statutory health insurance funds as a treatment method. As soon as occupational therapy measures are prescribed by the family doctor or psychiatrist, the health insurance company covers all costs for children under 18.

Where Can I Get An Occupational Therapy Prescription Or A Doctor’s Order?

Occupational therapy is usually prescribed by a doctor (family doctor or specialist) on an occupational therapy prescription. On the prescription, the doctor may order one of the following – depending on the nature of the problem and the goal of the treatment:

  • Sensorimotor-perceptive treatment.
  • Motor-functional treatment.
  • Psychological-functional treatment.
  • Brain performance training.
  • Thermal application.
  • Home visit (also home visit).


Occupational therapy can be particularly helpful in the following cases: gross and fine motor disorders, behavioral problems, disorders of perception and attention, social and communicative deficiencies, reading and spelling difficulties, and physical and mental disabilities.

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