top of page

Occupational Therapy: Tips and Overview

Occupational therapy offers support to those navigating physical, mental, or cognitive challenges. This article delves into the essence of occupational therapy, explaining its purpose and what one can anticipate during sessions. Whether you're considering occupational therapy for yourself, or a loved one, or simply wish to understand its impact, this overview offers a foundational understanding of its significant role in fostering independence and well-being.


  1. What is Occupational Therapy?

  2. How Does Occupational Therapy Work?

  3. What Happens During an Occupational Therapy Session?

  4. What Can Occupational Therapy Be Used For?

  5. How Effective is Occupational Therapy?

  6. Tips for Choosing an Occupational Therapist

  7. Free Occupational Therapy Resources: Exceptional Needs Today

What is Occupational Therapy?

What is Occupational Therapy?


Occupational therapy focuses on helping people strengthen or develop skills that can assist in their daily living activities and, therefore, help them live more independently.


What is the Difference Between OT and PT?


PT, or physical therapy, is dedicated to helping a person regain more mobility and strengthen their body. For example, a physical therapist might help a person recover from a knee injury by using exercises to help increase their range of motion. However, an occupational therapist focuses on assisting a person in performing specific daily living tasks, such as taking a bath or getting dressed, by introducing strategies to increase their ability to function regardless of obstacles to their independence–whether it is a physical or intellectual disability

How Does Occupational Therapy Work?


Occupational therapy helps to increase a person’s ability to perform daily tasks independently. An occupational therapist will assess an individual’s needs and provide bridges to success in performing everyday tasks in different settings. They then work on developing skills to increase a patient’s self-reliance. 


An occupational therapist in a school setting might work on fine motor skills to aid students who struggle to write without getting tired or whose grip might not be strong enough to communicate in writing legibly. 


An occupational therapist can assist with strengthening coordination and developing “sensory diets” (daily tasks to increase sensory input to lessen sensory overload or increase needed sensory stimulation). A sensory diet can help alleviate the stress of sensory processing disorder. An occupational therapist can also assist with helping individuals learn how to emotionally regulate and will introduce activities, exercises, and other tools to support in helping an individual feel more confident in their day-to-day life. Occupational therapy can also help with speech and language development for individuals struggling with speech delay.


What is the Main Goal of Occupational Therapy?


The main goal of occupational therapy will differ for each person, and there may be more than one goal. However, the overall objective is to increase independence and, consequently, the self-esteem of a person living with any type of impairment. An impairment might be due to a disability or a developmental delay, chronic pain, injury, stroke, etc. An occupational therapist’s primary goal is to assist a person in getting back to daily life activities so that they might feel more confident.


What Happens During an Occupational Therapy Session?


An occupational therapist helps people in many different situations and will perform different tasks with different patients. In an outpatient setting, an occupational therapist might introduce specific tools or activities into a person’s routine. In a home therapy setting for young children, an occupational therapist might teach them to use a straw or utensils; they may introduce a sensory diet and techniques to help them with overwhelmed or sensory sensitivities. 


In a school setting, an occupational therapist might assist a child in learning how to recognize the cues their body gives when they start to feel overcome with emotion. They can then introduce strategies to help them learn to self-regulate. An occupational therapist uses different tools, methods, activities, and exercises to increase a person’s ability to be more confident and independent. That will look different for different people, and an occupational therapist will also engage in different activities depending on the setting. 


What Can Occupational Therapy Be Used For?


Occupational therapy can be used in situations of chronic pain and to help a person learn how to manage it. Occupational therapy is often brought in for someone who has had a stroke and needs to increase their strength as well as learn how to engage in their daily life with new limitations. 


An occupational therapist can assist with helping someone who struggles to eat due to sensory sensitivity or dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). Due to low sensory input, occupational therapy can be used for emotional regulation, sensory overload, or sensory seeking. 


An occupational therapist can help an individual play more appropriately and increase stamina in different daily activities. An occupational therapist can help in many situations where a person struggles with obstacles to a happy life, whether at home, school, work, car or even on a walk. 


Occupational Therapy for Autism


Occupational therapy has often been used for individuals with autism. As previously mentioned, it helps to address situations that arise from sensory processing disorder, which is common in individuals with autism. 


An occupational therapist can help increase self-awareness and introduce interventions for individuals with sensory sensitivity. Often, addressing sensory issues with someone with autism can help alleviate the anxiety that is commonly brought on by sensory issues.


 An occupational therapist can introduce strategies on matters pertaining to transitions, emotional regulation, and fine and gross motor skill deficits needed for buttoning clothing, getting in and out of a bathtub, or even eating and drinking. 


Occupational therapists are often the first intervention for children who qualify for early intervention services and will have different roles throughout an individual’s life. We might see a child receive services to assist with daily school activities. Depending on your child's needs, it might be a good idea to consider outpatient therapy in addition to school therapy because an occupational therapist will have different goals in school versus at home. Used in conjunction with ABA therapy, occupational therapy can help significantly improve an individual with autism’s quality of life.

How Effective is Occupational Therapy?


Studies indicate marked improvement in parental and child competence and confidence after occupational therapy interventions in young patients. There have not been many studies on the long-term effects of occupational therapy on patients. However, the evidence suggests a positive impact on individuals with diverse needs. The ability of occupational therapy to increase a person's independence and competence in everyday life is needed to support individuals seeking to live fulfilling and autonomous lives. 

Tips for Choosing an Occupational Therapist


Like many other therapies, the key is finding an individual therapist that works best for you or your child. Occupational therapists often focus on different skills. Some occupational therapists focus on rehabilitation, some on individuals with special needs like down syndrome, some work best with an older population, and all can implement and introduce successful interventions and therapies. However, knowing who will work best for you or your loved one might require more research. 


You might start by reaching out to others in the special needs community. Parents can often be the best resources. Reaching out to your insurance carrier for a list of occupational therapists and their specialties, calling around to different practices, or asking your family doctor are all excellent places to start. If you find that you are not getting the results that you were hoping for or that your practice does not focus on the type of treatment that you desire, you can always go with another occupational therapist that feels more suited.

Free Occupational Therapy Resources: Exceptional Needs Today


For free resources on managing diagnoses, mobility, and accessibility support, self-advocacy, personal rights, educational rights, occupational therapy, mental health support, schools and camps, transitioning to adulthood, job opportunities, financial planning, supporting the family/caretakers, subscribe to Exceptional Needs Today. Subscribing to our award-winning e-magazine is free, and it enables us to connect with more readers, helping us support the special needs community more effectively. We publish a new issue every quarter - delivered straight to your email.

Exceptional Needs Today magazine is an award-winning different abilities publication that supports working together to promote awareness, acceptance, and inclusiveness for ALL. Visit our other articles for useful information about

  1. Autism

  2. ADHD

  3. Down Syndrome

  4. Dyslexia

  5. Intellectual Disability

  6. Speech Delay

  7. Developmental Delay

  8. Early Intervention

  9. ABA Therapy

  10. Individualized Education Program (IEP)

Katie Foley is an advocate for The Arc of Northeastern Pennsylvania (, where she runs Sibshop, creates and presents content and trainings focused on assisting others in advocating for themselves or their loved ones and assists in individual advocacy in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Her education is in communications with a focus on theater, and she has a secondary degree in elementary education.

She also enjoys teaching an Acting class for Adults of all abilities that focus on socialization and emotional understanding through Acting techniques. She has written You May Never Be French, a children's book that looks at autism through a cultural lens.

Katie has also written and contributed to other children's books and has been a contributing author for Autism Parenting Magazine and a guest blogger for other nonprofits. She is on the Family Advisory Board for Community Cares Behavioral Health in Pennsylvania and a founding board member of The Art's Alliance in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. Katie also enjoys volunteering for Equestrian Special Olympics; however, she is most grateful for her role as a parent of exceptional children who teach her new things about herself and life daily.

What Happens During an Occupational Therapy Session?
How Does Occupational Therapy Work?
What Can Occupational Therapy Be Used For?
How Effective is Occupational Therapy?
Tips for Choosing an Occupational Therapist
Free Occupational Therapy Resources: Exceptional Needs Today
bottom of page