What is Occupational Therapy?

What is occupational therapy?

What does an occupational therapist do?

How can occupational therapy help my child?

For many families who are new to the world of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and the related diagnoses, occupational therapy is often something they’ve heard of, but no very little about.

We spent some time with Lisa Clark, Director and Senior Paediatric Occupational Therapist at Splash Occupational Therapy to get  answers to the most common questions they receive from parents and families visiting their Melbourne practice for the first time.

What is occupational therapy and what does an occupational therapist do?
Occupational Therapy (OT) is a health care profession focussed on enabling people to engage in meaningful and purposeful activities. An Occupational Therapist assesses a person’s self-care, productivity and leisure activities in their daily environments. Paediatric OT’s are specifically interested in children’s ability to engage in their occupations, which refers to the everyday tasks or activities children need to do including;

  • Looking after themselves (self-care) – such as dressing, eating, bathing;
  • Participating in school and kinder (productivity) – such as writing, cutting, listening in class;
  • Enjoying their leisure time (play) – developing play skills appropriate for their developmental age and stage, including pretend and cooperative play  with other children, and their participation in group leisure/sport activities.

How does an OT help my child?
An OT will help your child by assessing the 3 key occupational areas listed above. They will assess if your child requires any support in these areas and will then work collaboratively with you as the parent, and your child’s kinder or school teacher to work on the particular area of your child’s development. Specifically, an OT will assess and assist in the following areas of a child’s development:

  • Gross motor coordination
  • Fine motor coordination
  • Sensory Processing
  • Perceptual skills (visual skills)
  • Cognitive skills
  • Handwriting
  • Activities of Daily Living (self-care, eating, etc)

How is an OT different from other therapists?
An Occupational Therapists focuses on the “occupations” of kids. We are the therapists who work specifically on the tasks which you child needs to complete on a daily basis.
For example, kids need to know how to independently eat their breakfast, pack their school bag, or write their name.

An OT will focus on how your child can independently and appropriately complete these tasks. They will break down what skill your child is having difficulty with in order to carry out these tasks. For example, your child may not be able to write their name due to poor visual motor integration skills, poor fine motor development, poor hand strength or a combination of all of these skills which is impacting on the task being completed.

How do I know if my child needs to see an OT?
You should speak to an OT If your child is having difficulty with any of the following areas:

  • Following kinder and school routines independently – i.e. toileting, sitting still at mat time, washing hands, eating lunch, etc.
  • Play skills or structured leisure activities
  • Fine motor skills needed for kinder /school tasks such as drawing, using scissors, using two hands together in puzzle/craft activities
  • Handwriting skills
  • Coordination of gross motor skills such as ball throwing/catching, riding a bike, jumping, hopping, or appears clumsy
  • Maintaining attention and concentration during kinder or school tasks
  • Behaviour such as non-cooperative with teacher/peers or poor social skills
  • Difficulties with sensory processing, impacting on the child’s everyday routines

Do I need to be referred to an OT?
No you do not need an referral in order to be seen by an OT. Often, your GP or Paediatrician may refer you to an OT, however, you do not need a specific referral form or letter.

What diagnoses can an OT assist with?
An OT will not complete an assessment in order to make a diagnosis. In order to receive a formal diagnosis, you need to see a Paediatrician, who will then coordinate a diagnostic assessment with a Psychologist and a Speech Pathologist. These are the two professional assessments which a Paediatrician requires in order to make a final decision on a child’s diagnosis. Assessments completed by OT’s are usually to assess the child’s occupational needs for intervention.

However, you may be engaged with an OT prior to receiving a formal diagnosis and OT’s will often refer you to a Paediatrician for further assessment if they believe your child may have a diagnosis such as Autism, Developmental Delay or a Learning Difficulty.

What should I expect from my first appointment?
During your first appointment with an OT, you should expect to have a discussion with your OT about your child’s current performance in their daily occupations, including their self-care skills, their play skills and their skills at kinder or school. Your OT should spend some time interacting with your child, perhaps as informal as playing games with them, or completing a drawing or puzzle activity at the table, or more formal assessments looking at their visual motor integration skills, gross or fine motor development and so on. You may also be asked to complete other questionnaires to gather further information about your child and their behaviour, as well as discussing specific goals you would like to see achieved in your child’s OT sessions.

What does an OT cost?
The cost of OT assessment and intervention varies depending on the private practice you attend in your local area.  A range of cost for OT services is as follows:
Assessment – from $300-$600 (inclusive of a written report)
Intervention – from $150-$170 per hour (written session notes should also be provided to you)
Other costs such as travel costs to/from kinder or school may also be charged for depending on the set up of the practice.

Is there funding available, and how do I know if my child is eligible for funding?
Yes there is funding available for children with and without a formal diagnosis. Funding available under Occupational Therapy services include:

  • Medicare CDMP rebates – plans of 5 sessions per year from your GP
  • Medicare Mental Health Care plan rebates – up to 10 sessions per year (only some OT’s are eligible for this rebate)
  • DSS funding – Better Start or HCWA packages – $12,000 for children with a diagnosis under these services
  • School based funding – speak to your local school representative

Splash Occupational Therapy are a Melbourne based paediatric occupational therapy practice dedicated to assisting children achieve their full potential.They are a private practice providing assessments and intervention on site at their clinics in Werribee and Essendon, within the school environment, or at home depending on the needs of your child and family. Click here for their contact details and to visit their website.