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What Is Occupational Therapy?

“I know speech therapy is about language and communication, and physical therapy is about injury and recovery. So what is occupational therapy?”

People often confuse occupational therapy and physical therapy. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy are three related types of rehabilitation therapy that work together to treat people as a whole. All three professions have different focuses, but there are some areas of overlap. For people with physical, cognitive, developmental disabilities, a combination of the three therapy works together to help restore function in their daily life.

5 seconds to understand therapy

Who are Occupational therapists?

What does occupation mean? Occupations refer to the activities that people do everyday to occupy time and are meaningful and purposeful. Work, play, leisure, education, rest and sleep, and social participation are examples for “occupations”.

Occupational therapy aims to improve quality of life. Occupational therapists (OTs) help people from any age to be functional and independent physically and mentally in their daily life. An OT can work in many different settings including but not limited to: clinical practice, hospital, skilled nursing facilities, school, and research.

OT and Pediatrics

In the pediatric population, my goal as an Occupational Therapist is to help with development and support kids with developmental delays in order to be successful at home and in school.


We are superheroes! OT can do anything!

Part of the development that OTs can work on:

  1. Personal hygiene/self-care (Activities of daily living; ADL)

Self-care: A person’s ability to take care of themselves. Such as dressing, brushing teeth, using bathroom…etc.

2. Motor skills (Gross motor and Fine motor skills)

Gross motor (involving large muscles ex: arms and legs) and fine motor (involving smaller muscles ex: fingers) skills. Includes coordination, balance, movement, manipulation, dexterity.

Gross motor skills (Arms and legs): jumping, walking, running, sports.

Fine motor skills (Fingers and hands): handwriting, scissor use, utensil use

3. Sensory processing


Use of 8 senses (vision, hearing, smell, touch, mouth, balance, body awareness, visceral sensation)

Sensory processing, also known as sensory integration, is about “how we feel”. It is the process that our brains receive the sensory information, organize and process to respond with appropriate motor and behavior responses.

Read more about sensory processing:


We’re living in a world full of SENSORY input!

4. Cognitive and attention skills


May be typical for ASD, ADHD. Executive functioning (ex: organization, memory, task completion, following directions). Attention span (ex: attention to stay on a task or sit on a chair).

Read more about attention span:


Running, rocking, rolling in the chair! Why do my children NEVER get tired?

5. Emotional regulation

Ability to identify and regulate emotions.

Types of things that OT can treat (included but not limited to)

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Sensory processing disorder (SPD)

Developmental delays

Handwriting deficits

Dyslexia

Learning Disabilities

Muscle Dystrophy

Emotional Regulation Deficits

Congenital Hand Deformities

Early Intervention Concerns

Read more about ASD:


Understanding and Embracing Autism (ASD)

Credit: Volerie Pena, OTR


Know more about occupational therapy

I am proud to be an occupational therapist. Ella Wu, OTD, OTR/L Doctor of Occupational Therapy
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